Any movie that openly courts direct comparison to the 1984 rock mockumentary This Is Spinal Tap is all but begging us to find fault with it. So it's all the more impressive that Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping should be such an exceptionally rewarding comedy, given the giant breathing down its neck. I'm not sure that there has been any film in the intervening 32 years to so directly and liberally borrow from the Spinal Tap playbook, and while I'm not at all sure that Popstar is perfect in all its particulars - for one thing, its widespread embrace of 2010s pop culture ephemera almost certainly means that it won't age nearly as well as its predecessor - it more than earns it place in the pantheon of great parodies.

If there's any single target of the film's satiric jabs, it's the 2011 concert film Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, which provides both Popstar's subtitle and its main character's Bieberish stage persona. But co-writers/stars Andy Samberg, Akiva Schaffer, & Jorma Taccone (the latter two also directed) cast their nets rather substantially wider than any one artist, or even any one generation of dodgy pop music. The film's subject is Conner Friel (Samberg), who was once a member of the turn-of-the-century boy band Style Boyz, as "Kid Conner", but whose ruthless arrogance and zest for self-promotion left his bandmates Owen, aka "Kid Contact" (Taccone) and Lawrence, aka "Kid Brain" (Schaffer) in the dust. Since then, Conner has rebranded himself as Conner4Real, and whose first album was one of the biggest sellers of its era. We pick up with Conner right on the eve of the release of his long-delayed followup, Connquest, his life an endless whirlwind of breathless yes-men and thoroughly generic praise, with Owen serving as his much-disrespected DJ and Lawrence off farming in the country. When Connquest, made in a blur of mindless indulgence and no artistry to speak of, is greeted by unrelentingly savage reviews and non-existent sales, Conner is plunged into a desperation spiral that sees him lashing out in virtually every direction to blame every possible person other than himself. Will he eventually give in to the obvious desire for a Style Boyz reunion, in the process making up to Lawrence and Owen for his years and years of irredeemably obnoxious behavior?

Well, obviously. The paint-by-numbers storytelling of Popstar is as much part of the joke as anything, a riff on the "everything comes prepackaged" media culture that is the movie's primary target. Besides which, the plot of the film is never more than a pretext for the film's gags, which come in several different flavors, but generally clump into four broad areas: real, honest-to-God famous people in the music industry show up to say nice things about the idiot clown Conner (the film has one of the deepest benches of celebrity cameos of any film I've seen in... ever); the way that celebrities are covered in the media is a baffling melange of angry moralism and desperate, unchecked idolatry; music video and concert parodies; and full-on absurdism. There's quite a lot of overlap between these four points, such as in the TMZ parody that features Will Arnett as the ringleader of a group of professional gossips whose unhinged ejaculations of rage leave them feeling like the carnival grotesques from a Fellini film.

But in the main, it's the music video parodies and absurdism that are where Popstar shines, which of course makes sense. The three writers got their start as the Lonely Island, a Saturday Night Live-adjacent comedy troupe that for more than a decade has been producing some of the most inspired comic shorts out there, weird little fantasias on the vocabulary and iconography of music videos paired with bizarre songs whose aggressive treatment of mundane topics veer off into the realm of pure surrealism. It's a shtick that hasn't worn out yet, and Popstar is really nothing more than the feature-length version of those shorts, much more so than the other films made by some combination of the trio (Hot Rod, directed by Schaffer with Samberg and Taccone in lead roles; MacGruber, directed and co-written by Taccone; The Watch, directed by Schaffer with all three in cameo roles), and while the act of expansion isn't an unmixed blessing - there are enough dull patches between the really inspired bits that even at just 87 minutes, Popstar feels padded - seeing the group's strange and proudly off-putting genius carried off with the resources of a studio feature is frequently awe-inspiring. As with any comedy, different viewers will have different responses, but for myself, the film would have earned its place among the funniest movies of the 2010s just thanks to the monumental mixture of filth and braindead jingoism "Finest Girl (Bin Laden Song)", with its earwormy repetition of "fuck Bin Laden" as a sexual metaphor, staged with backup dancers in camo bikinis writhing behind Samberg. Not everything is at that level - indeed, nothing else is at that level - but the amount of creative awfulness on display is always impressive, even when it needs to slow down a bit between the best gags.

I will not say that the movie is particularly surprising; even without benefit of knowing the Lonely Island's output (there's not a single song in Popstar that wouldn't have worked fine as a Lonely Island standalone), the movie makes it very clear early on what general wheelhouse the jokes are going to be in, even if it's generally unexpected in the specifics - the particular nature of Conner's megalomania, the Daft Punk-esque humiliation he lays upon Owen, a spectacularly random cameo by Seal and the secret story of how he got his facial scars. Plenty of the humor does feel like Spinal Tap dusted off for the modern age, and nothing more; and Spinal Tap undoubtedly had more profound things to say about rockstar egos and the devouring trashiness of the music industry than Popstar (which often as not settles on "this guy is a dick. Here's a weird-ass song about how the Mona Lisa sucks!" without any particular digging or context). There's something very inside-baseball about a lot of the jokes here: it is a movie for people who know a lot about 2010s pop culture, by people who know a lot about 2010s pop culture, and many of the jokes simply aren't funny on their own terms. Is an offhand reference to Taylor Swift committing murder a proper joke, as such? I don't know, but in this moment in history, I know that it made me laugh like an idiot, and I have to think that's sufficient.