Verdict: The Lonely Island excels at taking jokes to weird places, and their second feature film is stuffed with their brand of surprising laughs.
Normally our Lonely Island experiences are delivered in manageable song-sized chunks of absurdity, an SNL short here or an indulgent “Dick in a Box” replay there. Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone have a knack for bite-sized hilarity that’s ridiculous enough to pack a big punch in a small format. “Jizz in My Pants”’s tight two minute, 30 second runtime is just enough to grind the joke home before it starts getting weird and boring, and the same goes for “Jack Sparrow” and the classic “I’m On a Boat.”
Enter “Popstar,” the trio’s second feature length film. It clocks in at 86 minutes, short in the scheme of feature films but around 25 times the length of their usual fare. All things considered it holds up surprisingly well, buoyed by a steady stream of comedy gems that propel you through the meh moments.
“Popstar” is a parody of music documentaries like Justin Beiber’s “Never Say Never” and Katy Perry’s “Part of Me,” following pop singer Conner4Real (Samberg) as he releases his second album. Taccone and Schaffer play his long suffering childhood friends, the first, his sort of DJ– really just a glorified hype man who pushes play on an iPod– and the second is a struggling farmer in Denver. Bad blood floweth between them, as they all started out together in a hit boy band, the Style Boyz, before Conner went solo and Schaffer stopped talking to him over a credit dispute.
We follow Conner as his second album drops to resounding raspberries and through the goofy tricks he tries to stay in the spotlight afterwards. He fights with his manager (Tim Meadows) and publicist (Sarah Silverman, strangely cast in a fairly laugh-light role but charming nonetheless) as his pride is attacked by his low record sales and uber popular opening act Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), who he suspects is the only reason anyone comes to his shows.
Conner is spot on as a parody of vapid self-absorbed pop artists with more ego than talent, and the Lonely Islanders use him effectively as a bouncing board for grander jokes about media and celebrity culture. Nonetheless he’s endearing, stupid but well-meaning and actually interested in making music that people like. Don’t get me wrong, he makes trash, but the music in this universe is all garbage anyway (check out the film’s track list, all of it written by the Lonely Island themselves) and he at least cares as much about people’s opinions as his cash flow.
Conner’s lovability aside, “Popstar” doesn’t pretend to be anything other than a string of jokes. It’s light on character and the plot is nothing new; standard and predictable. But everyone knows none of that matters and the movie leaves plenty of room for elaborate joke sequences.
Not every joke lands, but the gems are truly breathtaking. Justin Timberlake’s character Tyrus Quash immediately comes to mind as a standout example, as well as a NSFW sequence that takes an otherwise cringe-worthy dick joke to such an extreme that it’s actually hilarious. There’s also Bill Hader’s character, a crappy roadie whose hobby is flat-lining (which leads to a ridiculous reference to the 1990 movie “Flatliners” that probably doesn’t mean anything to “Popstar”’s millennial audience) and an unforgettable marriage proposal involving wolves and Seal.
Cameos abound, a constant source of easy giggles. The film is star studded, flaunting the likes of Jimmy Fallon, Adam Levine and Snoop Dogg. I get the feeling that the Lonely Island boys are well liked among the famous and a lot of these sit downs were more personal favors than anything, considering their first film “Hot Rod” was a box office flop and “Popstar” sticks to a similar money-losing brand of absurdism.
No disrespect, of course. I’m all about that absurdism, no matter how little the box office appreciates it. “Popstar” provided me with the unspeakable joy of watching Nas rave about Conner’s horrible album, which includes an amazingly bad Macklemore-inspired song titled “Equal Rights” and a gutbuster called “Finest Girl” which is about a chick who wants Conner to “f**k her like the military f**ked Bin Laden.”
“Popstar” has been out awhile, but it’s still got a week or so left in Atlanta. If you’re looking for a way to spend a hot summer evening, do our Lonely Island boys a favor and throw eleven bucks their way. We’ve gotta do what we can to fatten their box office haul, lest the dick jokes and puking turtles be forgotten in a wave of unfunny summer blockbusters.