A heartfelt thank-you from 16-year-old singer Justin Bieber to his millions of fans, and an equally sincere plea for them not to forget him when the next doe-eyed cutie-pie rolls around, the concert film "Justin Bieber: Never Say Never" manages the neat trick of making a mass-marketed pop act seem like the kid next door. No matter how far away he looks on that stage, Bieber belongs to you, and you and you.
Though it's essentially one long advertisement, "Never Say Never" doesn't pretend to be anything else. Directed by Jon M. Chu (the "Step Up" dance-flick franchise), the movie draws a rough narrative arc by following Bieber on his 2010 tour leading up to a sold-out concert at Madison Square Garden. There is some ginned-up drama - will Justin's vocal cords recover in time for the Garden? OMG! - but mostly it's a fans' wish list of backstage banter, adorable baby photos and the occasional glimpse of Bieber's bare torso.
Despite itself, the film ends up providing a peek into the youth-entertainment machine. Scott "Scooter" Braun, who discovered Bieber via a homemade YouTube video, is justifiably proud of encouraging Bieber's Internet-marketing potential (the singer now has 6.9 million followers on Twitter), while music impresario Antonio "L.A." Reid admits without a trace of mockery that he signed Bieber thinking, "Wow, it's the Macaulay Culkin of music." It's hard to say which man is the greater visionary.
Of all the talking heads in the film, Bieber talks the least. Mostly he sings fan favorites like "Baby," "U Smile" and the title song, occasionally joined by guest stars like Usher, Jaden Smith, Miley Cyrus and Sean Kingston. But this, too, may be a ploy. It's a way to keep Bieber close, but not too close, to his fans.