Finally, after all these endless 3D flicks missing the point of comin'-at-ya technology, one movie firmly embraces the ultimate use of those goofy glasses. Yep, about halfway through dizzied doc Justin Bieber: Never Say Never, the camera, in winking super-slo-mode, pans in on the 16-year-old Canadian scream machine, the pop star's puffy lips pursed just enough to break the reality plane. With Etta James' At Last smoldering on the soundtrack, he smirks and then — wait for it — shakes his infamous '70s-shaggy hairdo, each angelic lock seemingly brushing the viewer's tween cheeks.
One word: Eeeeeee!
With all apologies to James Cameron and his 3D beasties in Avatar, the sci-fi director has been trumped by a punk in a backward baseball cap! Haha! Okay, the charmingly G-rated Never Say Never may very well wind up a pop-culture time capsule a la Vanilla Ice's Cool as Ice. But give the filmmakers credit for knowing exactly what the movie should deliver: a high-energy, high-tech chance for shrieking teen girls to go nuts for a flash-flood phenom who may be a trivia question by the time he's old enough to drink.
Did I like Never Say Never, which weaves slick 3D concert footage from Madison Square Garden with fun behind-the-scenes tomfoolery and archival footage of Bieber as the cutest baby in the history of babies? Yes, I actually did. As did my 7-year-old daughter, who sat next to her dad and kept shouting, "Biebs sure does take his shirt off a lot!"
The singer comes off as genuinely sweet, predictably puckish and absolutely in love with his family. (Footage of his estranged father losing his composure at a show is particularly moving.) Bieber can croon frothy tunes and dance pretty darn well. His greatest talent might be as a drummer, and there's dynamite footage to prove that, as well. The editing keeps the beat, and the 3D stuff sparkles with a sly self-awareness. You better believe JB repeatedly "reaches" out to fans, at one point even throwing his purple hat in your lap.
But far more interesting is the movie's careful, clever way of showing how 21st century social networking (most notably YouTube) was just as important in creating this kid as his smile. Plus I never get tired of watching fans react to being in close proximity of their hero, whether it's a giddy girl ("I think about him 99 percent of my life!") or a down-on-her-luck mom who sobs uncontrollably when she's given free tickets for her children. Is it manipulative? Sure. But the reaction is as real as Beatlemania.
Never Say Never gets tedious in its third act. Sudden hullabaloo about Bieber's fatigue threatening the big New York show feels half-baked. ("He's giving everything that he's got!" his vocal coach pleads.) And a guest appearance by Jaden (Karate Kid) Smith reeks of famous father Will's clout. But all that is cleared up by the film's rah-rah finale: a rendition of big hit Baby that features rapper Ludacris, a rainstorm of confetti and 3D Bieber coming at you one more time. Go on, try to grab the lil' scamp. That's exactly the point.
Sean Daly can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life blog is at tampabay.com/blogs/poplife.