Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is funny in all the ways you’d expect a Lonely Island movie to be funny, and in all the ways that you’d expect a movie called Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping to be funny. There are great visual gags like a hologram of Adam Levine grinding on another hologram of Adam Levine; spot-on parodies of music industry egotism like the title character Conner’s lavish mansion and conniving manager (Tim Meadows); and inspired cameos from the likes of Ringo Starr, Usher, Maya Rudolph, Will Arnett, Chelsea Peretti, Seal and dozens more celebrities game to poke a little fun at themselves and their occupations.
At a trim 86 minutes, the movie is over before most of its (outsized, proudly silly) gags get truly stale. The conceit — a self-obsessed former boy band star (Andy Samberg) goes solo and makes it big before crashing and burning in the public eye — is familiar, and the wisp of a story travels from the obvious point A to the obvious point B without many detours.
But Samberg marks another notch on his journey from goofball SNL star to respectable comedic thespian, imbuing Conner with just enough pathos to keep him from pure, superficial caricature. As Conner’s former bandmate Owen, Taccone makes a strong onscreen showing as well — a significant upgrade, I can only imagine, from his prestigious turn as “Casual Wanker #2” in Schaeffer’s forgotten 2012 comedy The Watch. (I saw that on IMDb and couldn’t resist sharing it.) Plenty of comedians and stars you probably like appear just long enough for you to wish they had more to do; I’d have happily watched a scene or two more with Bill Hader’s guitarist Zippy, for instance.
The tone is critical in a movie like this. Too saccharine, and the satirical edge feels sanded off. Too cutting, and the whole enterprise starts to seem mean-spirited. Too smug, and the audience feels left out of the filmmakers’ enthusiasm for their own achievements. Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (I never stop never not being tired of typing that title) finds an agreeable balance. It’s not an indictment of the music industry or a farce of truly epic proportions. But it’s got enough laughs and good-natured charm to keep a smile on your face, and — unlike its central character — enough modesty to know when it’s overstayed its welcome.