POPSTAR: NEVER STOP NEVER STOPPING
Rightly or wrongly, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is 2016's biggest box office bomb. How bad was it in terms of box office receipts? Popstar was released on June 3, 2016 in first-run theaters. It arrived in second-run theaters on June 17, two weeks later. If you account for a brief time gap between first-run and discount theaters for a film (somewhere between a week and a month), Popstar essentially lasted one week in theaters before being pulled and dumped at the discount chains. Adding insult to injury, Popstar lasted one week at the discount theater before being pulled there too.
In short, few people had any real interest in seeing The Lonely Island and its main face, Andy Samberg, spoof Justin Bieber.
The fact that a film flops as hard as Popstar did is not an indication of whether it's good or bad. There were a few funny moments, but for me, Popstar more than justified its disastrous run.
A mockumentary, Popstar follows Conner (Samberg), who bills himself as Conner4Real and believes himself to be a brilliant musical artist. Of course, he isn't, but he has many hangers-on to insist that he is. Conner also has many fans (various musical stars make cameo appearances as themselves discussing the influence on them from Conner and his former Beastie Boys-type group, Style Boyz). Even Adam Levine from Maroon 5 pops in as a hologram to 'join' Conner on stage for a song.
The two other members of Style Boyz had different fates. Owen (Jorma Taccone) stayed with Conner to be his DJ. Lawrence (Akiva Schaffer) went to be a farmer after he and Conner had a falling out over Conner's big hit, a duet with Pink (Alecia Moore) where his guest appearance created what is billed as an iconic "Catchphrase Rap". Conner took the credit, but Lawrence was the one that actually wrote the words.
As Conner is ready to drop his latest album, CONNquest, he finds to his amazement that he isn't the big star he's been led to think he is. His efforts to get an appliance company to back his tour by having his music play whenever anyone opens the company's refrigerators/ovens/blenders etc. is a disaster (the power outage and general revulsion it causes makes him even more hated). In order to build up sales, Conner reluctantly agrees to get an opening act (Conner believing his name should be enough). That opening act is Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd), who at first supplants Owen as Conner's best friend only to eventually earn Conner's wrath when Hunter becomes the main draw.
|There's a Boob Somewhere Here|
This decision was a poor one, for when Conner adds a new bit to his stage show where he does quick-changes on stage, at one point the contraption fails and reveals a naked Conner on stage. Making matters worse is that to facilitate the quick-changes, his genitals were 'tucked in' and thus he not only appeared nude but to have no genitals. Owen tries to rush down to help, but the helmet is too cumbersome for him, causing him to roll down the stairs (and blind the audience).
This fiasco is chronicled on CMZ, a tabloid show where the host drinks from a cup and his minions all laugh at whatever he says.
These bits, as well as a musical spoof by the way, were the only times I laughed.
Eventually, Conner4Real BECOMES Conner for real, with Owen as mediator to "Parent Trap" Conner and Lawrence. This all comes to a climax at The Poppies (The Pop Music Awards), where Conner will debut a new single and bring the Style Boyz back. That indicates an evolution in Conner's views, as he has been throughout the experience adamant about NOT getting the Style Boyz back (the mere mention of Style Boyz on The Tonight Show With Jimmy Fallon sends him into offstage fits).
When he learns that there is room for only one number, what will Conner choose: the Style Boyz comeback number, or his own CONNquest single?
Popstar, at certain points, is dead-on-target with its mockery of pop musicians and their pretentions of greatness and/or wisdom. Conner debuts a new single where he allegedly is making social commentary. Equal Rights, his 'ode' to same-sex marriage with Pink providing guest vocals, is an obvious parody of Macklemore's Same Love. What made it more amusing is that throughout Equal Rights, Conner kept making it obvious that he is straight by constantly telling us he's straight, by surrounding himself with beautiful women, and at one point by appearing to have sex with a woman. Macklemore doesn't go to those extremes, but he does if memory serve right mention in Same Love that he is himself straight. Hard to recall since after same-sex marriage was legalized (which Conner is unaware of), Same Love doesn't have the same airplay as does Thrift Shop.
I'm all for mocking self-absorbed 'performers' like Bieber and Macklemore, but part of the problem with Popstar may stem from familiarity with the subject (or lack thereof). I'm old-school when it comes to so-called 'pop culture' in that I don't believe in it. There's 'culture' and there's what's popular, but I have rejected the idea of 'pop culture'. For example, while I know of the Kardashian-Jenner clan, I wouldn't be able to distinguish between Khloe, Kourtney, Kim, Kendall, and Kylie. Truth be told, not only would I not be able to tell you who was whom (maybe Kim, maybe) but I have never understood what exactly they do to achieve any level of notoriety or why anyone would genuinely care about who or what they are or do. As such, I figure more than a few jokes went over my head and perhaps others.
Take CMZ, the fake tabloid show for example. It's clear that this is meant to be the tabloid show TMZ, the one that follows 'stars' to restaurants and airports, asking all sorts of invasive or insipid questions. CMZ has Will Arnett appearing as the Harvey Levin substitute. If I hadn't used to watch TMZ (something I haven't done in years), I wouldn't have known what they were referencing. If you don't care about or haven't heard of TMZ, all the in-jokes would just fall flat.
Furthermore, calling their TMZ spoof CMZ (and making it painfully obvious who they were paroding, down to the staff of hangers-on) struck me as terribly lazy. A good spoof can mock something without being so obvious about it. Popstar opted for the easier route of being obvious, and I think that is one of its sins.
I think the obvious nature of Popstar is among the film's greatest flaws. A comedy is suppose to make you laugh, but for most of it I either wasn't laughing or was cringing at some of what is suppose to be the humor. When Owen is attempting to bring Conner and Lawrence together in Conner's limo, we see Conner is oblivious to the sight gags of a woman propping her breasts up to the window, as well as another woman putting her ass up to it with "I Heart Conner" on her cheeks. It's when he finally turns to the windows and sees a penis there that he reacts with disgust, but signs it anyway.
I figure I'm past the age where seeing penises makes me laugh. That is I think why Popstar failed for me. You can mock something, but when you're so overt and obvious about it, when you know where things are going, when the screenwriters (Samberg, Schaffer, and Taccone) don't do anything original with it, you wonder why bother.
It's obvious that the various musical figures in Popstar (some of whom I have little idea who they are) were in on the joke. That takes the humor out of it for me. Samberg was fine as the vacuous Conner, but he never made him anything other than an obvious joke. In other words, he never appeared to be a real figure. Perhaps that was also an in-joke that I wasn't suppose to get. Popstar was pretty predictable in how it went.
In retrospect, perhaps that is why Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is 2016's biggest bomb in one of the most dismal years in my film-going memory. It's not a terrible film. It's just not very funny.