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"Popstar: Never Stop Not Stopping" flopped last weekend, earning about a tenth of what a quartet of Ninja Turtles hauled in, and that fact is enough to have you weeping for America. Its clunky trailers be damned, "Popstar" is, minute-for-minute, maybe the funniest movie of the year so far. The mock-rockumentary from the Lonely Island trio of "Saturday Night Live" infamy — Jorma Taccone, Andy Samberg and Akiva Schaffer, who also directs — runs like a feature-length version of the "I'm On a Boat" music video. Is The Lonely Island a spoof group, in business to satirize the vapidity and vulgarity of party hip-hop? Or is it a highly skilled pop trio whose work skews ludicrous as they bang out catchy hooks? Non-English speakers would bop their heads along with, to pick but one example, "I Just Had Sex" (252 million YouTube views and counting) even as you do spit-takes at the filthy, ridiculous lyrics.
"Popstar" builds around a fictional trio, the Style Boyz, who are in effect a bizzaro Lonely Island imagined as the "world's biggest pop group." Imagine a mashup between NSYNC and the Beastie Boys lighting up charts in a dimension where "I'm So Humble" or "Hot New Pop Song" are embraced as unironic.
The story picks up after infighting has split the group: Samberg's oblivious egotist Connor has splintered off to a huge solo career as "Connor4Real" without realizing how much he relied on the beats by his DJ bandmate Owen (Taccone) and lyrics by Lawrence (Schaffer), who's so disgusted he leaves, fizzles in his own solo career ("Things In My Jeep" featuring Linkin Park didn't chart so well) and retires to Colorado to farm, bitterly.
Connor charges ahead with what's supposed to be his monster new album, but his glaring idiocy cripples it. For instance, he releases a tentpole single around advocacy for same-sex marriage punctuated with insistences that he's not himself gay, and inks an ill-fated distribution deal with an appliance manufacturer that pipes his songs out of microwaves and refrigerators nationwide. His publicist (Sarah Silverman) and manager (Tim Meadows) are helpless to intervene, and failure doesn't sit well with Connor. He's a sort of dunce hybrid of Justins Bieber and Timberlake, with a spritzing of Usher (all of whom appear in "Popstar"), and what follows through his tantrums and crashes is a tale of friendship, hubris, self-realization and, in a strange twist of earnestness, collaborative creativity.
But no one really cares about the character arcs. You're here for the jokes. And, boy, are there jokes. "Popstar" is embroidered as finely as you'd expect from a crew of comedians used to writing songs and music videos. Practically every shot includes a gag of some kind, every cameo (and there must be dozens) chosen for maximum effect. The songs, too, almost all land as absurdist riffs on the past decade or so of pop. It's easy to hear the influence of, say, Macklemore or Nicki Minaj strewn around, and in the climactic number, maybe a nod to Insane Clown Posse, even as Michael Bolton is singing along. It's that kind of jamboroo.
Obviously something went awry in the marketing of this flick, and understandably so. There's a fine line between so-stupid-it's-smart and so-stupid-it's-back-around-to-really-stupid. The genius of "Popstar" lies in its audacious weaponization of idiocy. It's not a shock that this movie was made, but clearly no one expected it to be made this well. See it while you can, while it's not even the flavor of the month.
Doesn't hurt with the Godzilla tie-in. With the mentioning of Monarch, and the atomic bomb…