Maybe I’m still recovering from the trauma of Netflixing the Adam Sandler movie “The Do-Over,” but I honestly enjoyed a lot of “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping,” a steadily funny mockumentary from the Lonely Island triad of Jorma Taccone (co-director, co-writer, co-star), Akiva Schaffer (same) and Andy Samberg (co-writer and star).
Eleven years ago, the trio’s digital short “Lazy Sunday” aired on “Saturday Night Live.” It was a great moment, arriving at a time when “SNL” didn’t have many. Everything about it worked, beginning and ending with its clash of musical form (rage-y “street” cred in the beats) and lyric content (buying cupcakes and catching a matinee of “The Chronicles of Narnia”).
Now pushing 40, Samberg and associates had only so much time left in their careers to rip on a Justin Bieber-like superstar and not look like idiots. Let’s call “Popstar” a just-in-timer. Samberg is Conner4Real, onetime frontman for a boy band known as Style Boyz. We learn Conner ditched his colleagues for a solo career; Schaffer plays Lawrence, who takes up farming, unsuccessfully, after leaving the music business, while Taccone’s deejay Owen is relegated to lackey status on tour.
That tour captured by the documentary is a make-or-break proposition. Conner’s first album clicked, but the second one tanks. Like the granddaddy in this comedy sub-genre, “This is Spinal Tap,” “Popstar” frames Conner’s story as a redemption lesson in getting by with a little help from your friends after fame steps out on you.
Real-life musical figures come and go in a flurry of talking-heads interviews, from Ringo Starr to Questlove and Mariah Carey, the latter scoring a big laugh simply by stating, flatly, that she found a lot to relate to in Conner’s egomaniacal hit single “I’m So Humble.” Amid the “real” people, there are the fakes: Sarah Silverman as Conner’s formidable publicist, Tim Meadows, nicely relaxed as the tour manager who brings in a brash opening act for spice. Justin Timberlake scores as Conner’s upbeat personal chef, frequently slicing a variety of carrots.
Music mockumentaries rarely cross over to mainstream movie success, judging by the indifference to “Walk Hard: The Dewey Cox Story” and even “Spinal Tap” (beloved, but no hit). So be it. On its own “Popstar” scores a heartening success-to-failure gag ratio. Amid the musical segments, and sight gags involving full-frontal nudity both male and female (Conner’s rabid fans want his autograph on everything), Samberg and company get some digs in at the perils of relentless branding. A particularly lucrative merchandising deal places Conner’s songs in ordinary kitchen appliances, for example, and it goes over roughly as well as the U2-on-your-iTunes deal did in real life.
Then again, “Popstar” is most comfortable with material that simply comes out of nowhere. At one point Conner proposes to his girlfriend Ashley Wednesday (Imogen Poots) in a media-saturated ceremony where Seal is the headliner and a pack of allegedly trained wolves have been hired for the occasion. The ensuing melee is choice, even before Samberg rues the day he trusted the party wolves’ reviews on Yelp.