Share on Facebook Share on Twitter Share on Google+ Share on Reddit Share on Pinterest Share on Linkedin Share on Tumblr During their stint on “Saturday Night Live,” comedians Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone—known collectively as the Lonely Island—helped usher in a new era of comedy. “Viral video” was still a new phenomenon when the group punctured the zeitgeist in 2005 with “Lazy Sunday,” a low-budget clip that featured Samberg and SNL cast mate Chris Parnell rapping absurd lyrics about seeing Chronicles of Narnia and snacking on cupcakes. The deliberately silly and oddly charming video played well the night it aired, but it was the subsequent online obsession that directly contributed to the internet-dominated culture we find ourselves in today. This keen understanding of a burgeoning media landscape no doubt fed into Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, the Lonely Island’s feature mockumentary that satirizes mainstream entertainment with both an insider’s knowledge of and a unique perspective on today’s pop culture. As the group’s SNL popularity rose, their thematic preoccupations remained about the same (other well-known hits include “Dick in a Box,” “Jizz in my Pants” and “I Just Had Sex”), but their formal ambition increased. Popstar is an extension of the group’s famous Digital Shorts series, complete with clever editing, some hilarious set pieces and a Dadaist use of visual marketing gimmicks and music video clichés. But an 86-minute runtime must have felt like an eternity for the filmmakers, who still work best in four-minute intervals. Popstar occasionally feels similar to a one-note SNL sketch that overstays its welcome. Samberg, the Lonely Island’s de facto leader, stars as Conner Friel, aka Conner4Real, a huge popular rapper and singer who ditches his former boy band, the Style Boyz, to capitalize on a successful solo career while leaving his former bandmates (fellow Lonely Islanders Schaffer and Taccone, who also co-direct the film) behind. Fueled by millions of dollars and an ego inflated by his cabal of yes men, including his enabling publicist (Sarah Silverman) and soft-hearted manager (Tim Meadows), Conner is a self-centered and oblivious jerk whose hit “I’m So Humble” is filled with lyrics like “Bar none I am the most humblest/ Number one at the top of the humble list.” (The song, which also serves as the lead single for the film’s soundtrack, is a great example of the Lonely Island’s gift for comedic incongruity.) Lonely Island’s satirical aims are built directly into the film’s vision of mainstream pop entertainment, and not just its obvious absurdity but its pace and density, too. The jokes come at a rapid pace; if you miss one or three, the filmmakers have a structure in place that brings them back, remixed and recycled in a way that’s akin to scrolling through Vine and seeing each user’s spin on “Damn, Daniel” or some other viral clip, the gag building upon itself as time goes on. The songs, still the Lonely Island’s primary draw, occupy themselves with the uber-masculine posturing and sexualized violence of many contemporary hits, featuring some of the most sophomoric lyrics in the group’s career. This all fuels the film’s lightly surreal subtext, which winks at the audience and acknowledges that this is all about as deep as the kiddie-pool shallow stuff it’s mocking. Ultimately, as a satire, Popstar sort of pulls it punches. It’s never so mean as to outright condemn or judge any of the figures it’s parodying, but then it’s also rarely so incisive as to move beyond the obvious notions that yes, pop stars are vapid, and yes, materialism is bad, and yes, perspective is important. You’d never accuse the Lonely Island of being master satirists, and their brand of comedy is a hugely welcome alternative to the mean-spiritedness and smarmy self-satisfaction of someone like Seth MacFarlane or Ricky Gervais, but as much as Popstar revels in poking fun, it seems just as reluctant to actually ruffle any feathers. Suddenly, the cavalcade of celebrity musicians who give scripted testimonials—Pharrell Williams, Questlove, Usher, DJ Khaled, 50 Cent—feel less like an attempt at pop-doc authenticity and more like indication of how just how close the Lonely Island are to the world they’re lampooning. One of the best—and perhaps saddest—things about Popstar is that Conner rarely seems like a farfetched character. Prone to controversy and utterly obsessed with his image, he’s analogous to people like Justin Bieber and Kanye West, polarizing figures whose public stunts garner as much if not more attention than their music. It all points to the idea of relevancy being the ultimate currency in mainstream pop culture, only the notion of what is “relevant” has changed. Even disastrous and embarrassing PR gaffes, like the ones that hilariously befall Conner in the film, have a way of fueling careers. “There’s no such thing as selling out anymore,” he says at one point. “If you don’t sell out, people will think nobody asked you to.” In its most astute observation, Popstar points out that the definition of “relevancy” has become as distorted as Conner’s perception of himself.