There comes a point in every film where the audience is either all in or all out. While not always the case, this usually comes down to the opening. For Boy Band, a coming-of-age comedy centered around four men who never grew out of their teenage personas, that moment arrives as soon as the opening credit sequence is completed and the amusingly nostalgic mass-marketed materialism and candy-coated song wraps. The rather intriguing opening suggests a lampooning of either boy band culture or the music industry in the vein of 2016’s Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, a film which continues to pay comedic dividends through the set-up/payoff of jokes the Lonely Island crew has mastered over the years. Unfortunately, writing duo Stephen J. Levinson and Joel Levinson (who also directs), forgo any sense of ambition of delivering a focused plot, electing instead to connect incoherent scenes through a series of outrageous, yet unfunny scenarios.
Teen boy band sensation the Heartthrob Boyz released their debut album to worldwide acclaim. After a global tour and plenty of press, band leader and main lyricist Johnny (Chase Crawford) swore that the group wouldn’t leave the recording studio until their next record was finished. Sixteen years later, $1 million dollars in debt to the IRS, and with only 12-hours of studio time left, the band needs to only finish the final track, “Encore,” to lock down the album. All seems well in hand until an accident injures Johnny, peaceful nations begin attacking each other, the dead rise from their graves, and aliens attack Earth. The closer the Heartthrob Boyz get to finishing their record, the more they believe that the events around them are connected and Earth’s salvation may lie in their hands.
There is an interesting idea at the center of Boy Band which the Levinsons take too long to get to. It’s a notion that by being stuck in the past, there’s no chance at growth. This is a constant undercurrent throughout the film and an idea worth exploring since the lead characters are stuck in their teen years. Each band member still dresses as they did as teens, still sings songs about having sex with teenagers, and treats everyone around them terribly. The notion that the Heartthrob Boyz are anything but selfish, self-centered, maladroit adults is absolutely believable, which is why the escalating dangers they endure continually grate on the audience since none of the four take the danger seriously. A certain amount of bungling or buffoonery is a great deal of fun. Again, the aforementioned Popstar features a cavalcade of such types. The difference is that the world around them was able to grow, which doesn’t seem possible within Boy Band.
This is further complicated by the scenarios and gags running through the film. For a band which has been in the studio for 16 years, none of them seem to have any idea how anything works, what their roles are, or even what the name of the fourth member they refer to strictly as “New Guy” is. In one sequence, Johnny (now played by comedian Steve Agee) teaches New Guy how to play a drum machine. This would be a cute bonding moment except New Guy apparently has trouble following instructions to press a single button on the multi-button machine with a solitary finger. New Guy’s been established as talented and capable despite being shouted down by the band members, so why make this joke now? Then there’s studio engineer Davy (Dave Allen) who slips in tiny clues as to the hidden horrors of his life, only to break into song about a messy garage and, later, a clogged toilet. The film introduces a potentially interesting character and he gets to sing about trash. Speaking of singing, none of the songs are remotely memorable, which is strange for a comedic film about an aged boy band trying to recapture their success. If you’re going to spoof the industry, it’s important for the songs to be reflective of the talent that’s supposedly on display. MTV played with this in the late ‘90s/early 2000s with fake band 2gether who gave us “U + Me = Us” and “The Hardest Part of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff). Popstar has “I’m So Humble” featuring Adam Levine, “Mona Lisa,” and “Equal Rights” featuring P!nk. None of these are award winning songs, but they at least make the talent purported by the script believable.
There’s a good idea within Boy Band, which it never truly delivers on: stalled maturity, an examination of the false promise of youth, and a desire to create something which outlives ourselves. Even in a comedic context, any of these notions play well when building toward something. Instead, what the Levinson brothers present seems more intent upping the ridiculous-factor without concern for the resolution. It’s not that the Levinson brothers developed a bad idea, it’s that Boy Band doesn’t stick the landing on any of the ridiculous premises it sets up. Aliens invading Earth lead by Questlove – tell us more. Gilbert Gottfried voicing a puppet named Mort who manages the band – what’s the story here? There’s even a brilliant moment where Johnny’s wife Tina (Esther Ku) rips into band member Lance (Seth Herzog) for his ignorant misogyny. It’s a moment that had been building for the bulk of the film and pays off. Boy Band needed more moments like it to ground the antics and keep the material engaging.
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Final Score: 1 out of 5.