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Justin Bieber: Never Say Never

3 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

Bieber mania reaches its zenith! Pessimists will liken Jon Chu's polished and proficient all-access documentary to an apocalyptic sign of the times. (An adolescent phenom gets a triumphalist big-screen biography? Where's that razor?) The converted shall preach the gospel with ear-shattering shrieks and hands raised in heart-shaped ecstasy. Can there be a middle ground?

Born to a teenage mother and raised in a single-parent household, the 16-year-old Bieber gained prominence through a series of YouTube videos that caught the attention of R&B sensation Usher and talent manager Scooter Braun. Both are among the many talking heads that testify to the megastar's capacities, and the glowing assessments are understandable. Beneath the innocu-pop surface is a kid with a ton of musical aptitude (home videos show him playing the drums as if it were an innate instinct). But as he's now a corporate commodity---one that can easily sell out Madison Square Garden, where the film's mostly ho-hum 3-D concert footage was shot---it's unlikely his abilities will be given room to develop properly.

Chu does his best to humanize his subject, showing him surrounded by devoted friends and family, and wringing much drama from an on-the-road vocal-cord strain. Yet the singer's massive celebrity dictates that the overall arc must be glibly inspirational. Still, the biggest surprise is that Bieber seems consistently unfazed by all the cooks in the kitchen; it's as if he's holding something special back, to be unveiled at a later date. Hopefully, the machine won't grind this one down before his prime.

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