If you’re anything like me, you’re probably in the mood for a good dopey Will Ferrell comedy right about now. I regret to report that “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is a bad dopey Will Ferrell comedy – overlong, underwritten, as strained as its title, and running on schtick and storylines that are practically rims. There are laughs in this Netflix original but they’re mostly reflex actions, the star wielding his slapstick rubber hammer with the assurance of long experience.
So long, in fact, that Ferrell, 52, now seems too old to be playing his stock character: an idiot-elf man-child living with a crotchety father figure while holding onto an inane dream. The setting this time is the tiny Icelandic village of Husavik, where Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) gets no respect from fisherman dad Erick (Pierce Brosnan) for his hopes to win the annual televised contest of the title. The only person in Husavik who believes in Lars is his Fire Saga bandmate and childhood friend Sigirt (Rachel McAdams); she pines for him to return her love while he only yearns to be the next ABBA.
That Swedish ’70s supergroup is the only reason many Americans know about the Eurovision Song contest, an event that has been held every year since 1956 and specializes in over-the-top arena-pop spectacle that lands somewhere between camp and a touring production of D-Day. Ferrell is reportedly a long-time fan, and there’s no denying that the choreography and special effects on parade in “Eurovision Song Contest” are kitschy/funny assaults on the retina.
The lead duo, established as the worst musicians in Iceland, nevertheless make it to the big contest held in Edinburgh through a series of catastrophes that include a flaming Demi Lovato. As they work their way to the semifinals, Lars and Sigirt become haplessly endearing jokes to everyone else and if there’s anything different about “Eurovision Song Contest,” it’s the mood of charming if toothless geniality.
Everyone’s friendly in this movie. Dan Stevens, whose acting bandwidth is much wider than his junior-banker looks suggest, plays a Russian contender, Alexander Lemtov, who gets the pro forma I’m-gay-but-not-really-but-no-really-I’m-gay production number. He’s set up to be the movie’s overripe villain, but under the sloppy, slap-happy direction of David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”), he morphs into a friendly softie. So does Melissanthi Mahut as the Greek entrant, initially a sex-crazed man-eater. In keeping with the international bonhomie of the Song Contest itself, there are no bad guys here. Just bad singers.
Which leaves the movie halfway up a tree when it comes to staging the musical numbers. Are we meant to laugh at them or with them? Or both? It’s never clear, so while the bit where Lars performs onstage while running in a giant hamster wheel that crashes into the audience is obviously meant to be funny (and is), I’ll be damned if I know what the tone of the other song sequences is supposed to be. In the filmmakers’ defense, ironic admiration is just about impossible to pull off.
McAdams is a sweetie as Sigirt, and Ferrell hits his big, doofusy marks while improvising his lines to diminishing effect. Brosnan doesn’t have much to do but scowl into his grog. The accents are bad enough that Iceland could sue, but it’s not worth the trouble. From what I know of that country, the inhabitants have a darker, rawer sense of humor about themselves than any of the soft-focus potshots taken here. “Eurovision Song Contest” is a good example of an aging star repurposing his tricks for the new Netflix age, and it has its uses. But “Mamma Mia,” it ain’t. Oy, gevalt is more like it.
EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA
Directed by David Doblin. Written by Will Ferrell and Andrew Steele. Starring Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Pierce Brosnan, Demi Lovato. Available on Netflix, starting June 26. 123 minutes. PG-13 (crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images, language)