There may be no cultural cow more ripe for tipping than America’s massive pop-star industrial complex, with all its glorious inanity and Goodyear-blimp egos, and Andy Samberg knows it. He’s already had years of practice, beginning with the brilliant Saturday Night Live digital shorts that made him — and to a lesser extent his best friends and collaborators Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer — rightly famous. But as countless SNL cast members have learned the hard way, a three-minute sketch is a very different beast than a feature-length film. And a target that too often feels like a satire of itself might have already met then-outrageous parodies like “Dick in a Box” and “I’m On a Boat” more than halfway.
Luckily, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is both mercifully short (it clocks in at just 86 minutes) and smartly self-aware enough to handle all this with easy, low-stakes grace—and if it’s not exactly unforgettable, it’s still pretty fun. Samberg stars as Conner4Real, a rhymes-with-Shmustin-Shbieber-style teen dreamboat who has cleaved off from his original group The Style Boyz to reach the pinnacle of solo stardom. (That’s Schaffer and Taccone playing Kelly and Michelle to his Beyoncé.) The follow-up to Conner’s massive first album, however, is not coming easy, and he is forced to face a harsher new reality even as he insulates himself from the increasingly bad press and surrounds himself with a team of enablers and yes-men so dedicated they make Kim Jong-Un’s crew look lazy.
The movie’s cameo list alone is bananas—Mariah Carey, Adam Levine, Ringo Starr, Usher, Snoop Dogg, Seal, Pink, Questlove, and Carrie Underwood all play themselves in drive-bys and Behind the Music-esque interviews—and supporting roles are excellently filled by the likes of Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, Maya Rudolph, and Bill Hader, even if their presence is so expected it almost feels like playing a game of SNL-alumni whack-a-mole.
It’s better to experience the script’s best lines in the theater than spoil them here, though you might want to be prepared for some fantastically graphic full frontal (think “put ’em on the glass” but much more…scrotal.) And the movie has a sweet message of bros-before-gold that’s not at all surprising considering the Lonely guys’ real lifelong friendship. If anything, it’s all a little too nice; Samberg’s not mean enough to mock these teenage unicorns more than he has to—probably because he knows there are actual messed-up kids beneath all the custom bling and Snapchat bluster. Instead he keeps it sweet, goofy, and just gross enough—all 4 real, but never 2 much. B