Playing Catch-Up: Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping (dir by Akiva Schaffer and Jorma Taccone)

Have you heard of Conner4Real?

If you haven’t, you’re probably just old or else you don’t keep up with what’s happening in the world of popular music.  His real name is Conner Friel and he used to be a member of the Style Boyz.  Of course, the Style Boyz eventually broke up.  Kid Brain became a farmer.  Kid Contact became a DJ.  And Kid Conner — well, he became Conner4Real and he became a bigger star as a solo artist than he ever was as a Style Boy.  His debut album, Thriller, Also, broke records.

But the follow-up, Connquest … well, Connquest wasn’t quite as acclaimed.  In fact, it was hated by just about everyone.  This is despite featuring classic songs like:

Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)

Mona Lisa

and Equal Rights (featuring P!nk).

Fortunately, when Conner4Real was facing his greatest existential crisis, a film crew was present to record his struggle.  For those of us who were fascinated by the career of Conner4Real, Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping is a chance to see how Conner dealt with everything from his terminally ill pet turtle to the elaborate marriage proposal ceremony that led to Seal being attacked by wild wolves.  We would have gotten to see Conner and his manager defeat a swarm of mutant bees but, unfortunately, that happened right after the only time that Conner’s manager asked the film crew to stop filming.

Oh well, these things happen.

So, as you should have guessed from all that, Popstar is not a serious film.  It’s a mockumentary, with the emphasis on mock.  It was also one of the funniest films of 2016, a spot-on parody of the silliness and pretensions of fame.  Conner is a combination of Justin Bieber and Macklemore at their shallowest, a well-meaning but thoroughly empty-headed singer.  In fact, if Conner was played by anyone other than Andy Samberg, he would be so annoying that the film would run the risk of being unwatchable.

But fortunately, Conner is played by Andy Samberg.  It’s hard to think of anyone who plays dumb with quite the same panache as Andy Samberg does.  There are plenty of lines in Popstar that shouldn’t work but they do, specifically because they’re being delivered by Samberg.  He brings just the right amount of sweetly sincere stupidity to the role.  Almost despite yourself, you find yourself hoping that things will work out for Conner and the other Style Boyz.  Conner may not deserve to be as big a star as he is but it was obviously going to happen to some idiot so why not a sincere one?

Samberg is not the only funny person in Popstar.  The movie is full of funny people, from Sarah Silverman to Bill Hader to the always underrated Tim Meadows.  It’s also full of celebrity cameos and I have to admit that I usually tend to cringe when I see too many people playing themselves.  But in Popstar, it works.  One need only rewatch something like Zoolander 2 to see how well Popstar pulls off its celebrity cameos.

Sadly, as funny as Popstar was, it was also one of the biggest bombs of 2016.  (The trailer, it must be said, did not do the film justice.)  However, I expect that it will soon develop a strong cult following.  In a few years, we’ll get a sequel.  It probably won’t be as as good.

Oh well.  These things happen.

A Quickie With Lisa Marie: The Watch (dir. by Akiva Schaffer)

Earlier today, Jeff and I went down to the AMC Valley View and saw the new sci-fi comedy The WatchThe Watch has been getting universally negative reviews and it’s proving to be a bit of a bust at the box office (including Jeff and me, there were about 10 people at the showing we saw) but it was still a film that I was looking forward to seeing.  This is largely because the film stars three actors — Ben Stiller, Jonah Hill, and Vince Vaughn — who are rarely popular with film critics but who almost always seem to find a way to make me laugh.

In The Watch, Ben Stiller plays a suburbanite who deals with his frustrating existence by forming clubs and obsessing over his job as the manager of the local Costco.  (Costco, by the way, is actually a major plot point in the overall film and I would say that close to 60% of the actual film either takes place in Costco or involves characters talking about how much they love Costco.  Unlike a lot of critics, I’m not morally offended by blatant product placement but, even for me, The Watch went a little bit overboard with all the Costco hype.)  Wen the security guard at the Costco is brutally murdered, Stiller decides to form a neighborhood watch so that he can track down the killer.  After giving an impassioned speech at a high school football team, Stiller is able to recruit three more members of the neighborhood watch.  Vince Vaughn is a goofy guy who is overprotective of his daughter.  Jonah Hill is a psycho with a knife and a frustrated desire to be a policeman.  And Richard Ayoade is … well, he’s kinda strange but that’s explained away by the fact that he’s apparently English.

And together, they solve crimes!

The solution in this case is that the suburbs have been invaded by aliens.  Those aliens have a diabolical plan of their own and it’s up the Neighborhood Watch to stop them.  And did I mention that all of this somehow involves Costco? 

Because it totally does.

I think The Watch can best be summed up in one word: Forgettable.   It’s not a great film but it has a few funny moments.  Director Akiva Schaffer got his start directing comedic short films for Saturday Night Live and that’s pretty much the same approach that he brings to The Watch.  Every scene feels like a self-contained short film and the end result is a wildly uneven movie that never finds a consistent tone or really seems to be sure just what type of story it’s trying to tell.  The mix of raunchy comedy, sci-fi drama, and sentimental bromance never quite gels and, as a result, watching the film almost feels like being forced to try to concentrate on three different movies at once, never being allowed to truly focus on a single one of them.  

However, taking all of that into account, I still have to say that I laughed out loud several times during The Watch.  I may not have laughed quite as much as the 300 lbs. gentleman, sitting two rows behind us, who sounded as if he might choke to death every time Vince Vaughn delivered the line, “It feels like cum,” but I still laughed.  The Watch is a funny movie.  Quite frankly, with a cast like this, there’s no way that the movie couldn’t have been funny.  The main thing that I love about watching Vince Vaughn and Jonah Hill is the way that both of them bring an almost earnest sincerity to even the most ludicrous of roles.  As a result, Hill and Vaughn are actors who can get laughs out of even the weakest of jokes and they certainly get a oppurtunity to prove it in The Watch.  Meanwhile, Ayoade gives a wonderfully bizarre performance, scoring a lot of laughs just from being so consistently odd.  Ben Stiller does his usual uptight suburbanite routine and makes a good straight man for his 3 co-stars.  The Watch is at its best when it just lets its four stars hang out and play off of each other.

For such a forgettable film, The Watch has been the subject of some controversy.  The film was originally titled Neighborhood Watch until, earlier this year, Trayvon Martin was shot and killed by a member of a real life neighborhood watch.  The title was changed to avoid being “insensitive.”  Regardless of the film’s title, I have to admit that I did cringe a little at a rather lengthy joke that involved the film’s heroes — all wearing their “neighborhood watch” jackets — firing several bullets into the body of an apparently dead alien.  That said, The Watch is ultimately neither pro nor anti-neighborhood watch.  In the end, the only thing that the film seems to truly believe in is the universal importance of Costco.