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★ ★ | Movie REview

Hits and misses in Andy Samberg’s ‘Popstar’

Andy Samberg in “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping.”Glen Wilson/Universal Studios

Genial, silly, and instantly forgettable, “Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping” is just another piece of product from the larger “Saturday Night Live” universe, a way for a former cast member to try to prove he’s capable of carrying a movie. It’s a disappointment only because the cast member in question is Andy Samberg, who has already proved he can carry a TV show — the thoroughly enjoyable old-school sitcom “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” — and who here fritters away his slacker charisma on what feels like a plate of Will Ferrell leftovers.

Actually, “Popstar” is the combined work of Samberg, Jorma Taccone, and Akiva Schaffer, who as the comedy brain-trust The Lonely Island created those deft music-video parodies on “SNL” a few years back: “[Expletive] in a Box,” “I’m on a Boat,” etc. The three met back in middle school, and “Popstar” may be a whimsical veiled metaphor for the way success has come to all of them but stardom only to Samberg.


In any event, he plays Conner4Real, an aging dolt of a pop-music superstar — think Bieber with about 10 more years on him — while Taccone and Schaffer play Owen and Lawrence, Conner’s former best buds and partners in the hit trio the Style Boyz. (Taccone and Schaffer also directed “Popstar”; all three wrote the script.) Now that Conner4Real has ascended to pop royalty as a solo act, Owen has been demoted to his in-concert DJ — he pushes “play” on the iPod, essentially — and Lawrence has dropped off the grid, living in the country and carving embittered wood sculptures.

The movie follows a faux-documentary crew as it follows Conner4Real, who’s releasing a new album, “Connquest,” and embarking on what turns out to be a disastrous world tour. The script rarely departs from the Ferrell-ian template: the main character’s a fatuous egotist who rises, falls, and ultimately learns comic karmic humility. What sets “Popstar” apart — barely — is the sneaky wit of its take on celebrity culture in the Snapchat era and the patented Lonely Island music numbers, which are strung along the movie’s story line like pearls on a frayed thread.


There’s one where the singer wants his woman to do it to him like we did it to Osama bin Laden — I’m paraphrasing here — and a heartfelt musical plea for marriage equality that can’t quite cover the singer’s gay panic. We’re also treated to a brutal take-off of “TMZ Live” that features Will Arnett and Mike Birbiglia as Big Gulp-sucking media parasites and that only makes sense if you’ve seen the show.

Several bits push the taste envelope in accepted “subversive” fashion. Some of these are even funny. “Popstar” razzes the bloated production excesses of Bieber/Taylor/Katy-level concert extravaganzas with a costume change that becomes a wardrobe malfunction, and there’s one variation on the fan’s-breasts-pressed-against-the-limo-window cliché that I can’t believe made it past the MPAA. Also: The movie’s title is itself quite wonderful and a precise encapsulation of the circular inanity of 21st-century pop music.

So it’s an “SNL” movie, meaning a series of skits on a theme, and the hit-to-miss ratio is strong enough to make “Popstar” a pretty good bet when it turns up on VOD in a few months. Some good comic actors like Sarah Silverman, Tim Meadows, and Joan Cusack get lost in the shuffle, though, and the many real-life music stars who turn up to pay tribute to Conner4Real’s genius — from Usher to Nas to Mariah Carey to Ringo Starr — is merely an indication of how gentle the movie’s satire actually is. It ain’t “This Is Spinal Tap,” but it manages to get up to about a 6 or 7.


★ ★

Directed by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone. Written by Schaffer, Taccone, and Andy Samberg. Starring Samberg, Schaffer, Taccone. Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs. 86 minutes. R (some graphic nudity, language throughout, sexuality, drug use).

Ty Burr can be reached at ty.burr@globe.com.