Thursday, June 2, 2016

Andy Samberg hip hops for laughs

A rapper falls on hard times.

I wanted to laugh.

And I often did, but Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping -- Andy Samberg's new comedy -- isn't uproariously funny and its cascading series of musical parodies certainly can't touch the winner and still champion mock-doc satire, This is Spinal Tap.

Put another way, Samberg hasn't made Spinal Tap for the Hip-Hop generation.

That's not to say that the movie, which is stocked with a surfeit of musicians and SNL vets, doesn't occasionally strike gold -- or at least a significant amount of gold plate.

Hamburg plays Conner4Real, a rapper who broke into the business with two boyhood pals (Jorma Taccone and Akiva Schaffer), teen-agers who hit it big with a group called Style Boyz.

After the breakup, Conner enjoys some solo success, but his eagerly awaited second album tanks.

Somber, Taccone and Schaffer are all members of The Lonely Island, the trio that created SNL Digital Shorts, comic videos that fans will recognize as precursors to this full-length effort.

As a promotional scheme and commercial tie-in, Conner's management team signs a misguided agreement with an appliance company named AquaSpin. Every time an AquaSpin appliance is turned on, a Conner4Real song plays. The result: global power outages and rampant hostility toward Conner.

A strong comic cast, mostly underutilized, supports Stamberg's efforts. Tim Meadows plays Conner's manager), Sarah Silverman, his publicist and Maya Rudolph, a representative of the appliance company that goes into partnership with Conner. Bill Hader has a small part as a roadie and guitar wrangler.

You'll also see lots of real musicians: Questlove, Mariah Carey, Ringo Starr, Justin Timberlake, Snoop Dogg, Seal, D.J. Khaled, Usher, 50 Cent, Pharrell Williams and more.

The movie's collection of pop stars and rappers adds satirical weight. They talk with reverence about the StyleBoyz, an obvious joke because it's difficult to imagine that this group of white nerds could have made it big in the world of rap -- even by appropriating black styles.

In the album that flops, Conner goes way wrong with his choices. The main tune on his new album -- Not Gay -- is a belated cry for gender equality that lands with a thud, even with Conner's supposed genius for creating memorable catchphrases.

Much effort has gone into the movie's production numbers, presented as part of the sagging star's tour of the nation's arenas. The tour, by the way, eventually is hijacked by Conner's opening act, Hunter the Hungry (Chris Redd).

A Sacramento-bred suburban kid, Conner's egotistical personality seems less imaginatively conceived than some of the movie's rap lyrics.

Some of those lyrics are clever in a rude sort of way. I enjoyed a scene at an awards show that results in confusion over which crew is shooting which star's behind-the-scenes documentary. There's also something audaciously crazy about the idea that a rapper would write a song based on the way Spanish is spoken in Spain -- with a "lisp," says Conner.

So how do we sum up Popstar? Mostly sunny with sprinkles of laughs and no real taste for the rabid bite of satire.

No comments: