Before I say that “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” isn’t very funny, I should point out that I’ve underestimated the humor and the staying power of Will Ferrell comedies in the past. “Step Brothers” and “The Other Guys,” for instance, both seemed pretty flat the first time I saw them – but after a few more viewings (some voluntary, some not), I began to appreciate the durability of Catalina Wine Mixer and Little River Band jokes.
So maybe one day “Eurovision Song Contest,” which premieres on Netflix on Friday, will be one of those Ferrell films that needs repeat viewings and that will one day prove to be a surprisingly durable source of laughs.
But, you know, probably not.
Oh, there’s humor to be had in making fun of the glitzy musical competition that brought us Abba (back in 1974), Celine Dion (in ’88) and others of their ilk. And Dan Stevens kind of steals the show as a macho Russian pop singer with more than a touch of Siegfried or Roy in him.
But in the Ferrell canon, “Eurovision Song Contest” is a workmanlike, “Blades of Glory”-level effort, never as funny as you want it to be no matter how hard it tries or how silly its actors look.
Director David Dobkin has ventured down this road before, successfully in “Wedding Crashers” and less so in “Fred Claus” and “Shanghai Knights.” (His best work is probably in drama, with 1998’s “Clay Pigeons” a particular standout.) But “Eurovision Song Contest” is too long, at more than two hours, and too dependent on making fun of a very particular kind of ultra-slick pop performance.
We first see that kind of performance in a flashback to 1974, when young Lars Erickssong catches sight of Abba on that year’s Eurovision Song Contest, a multinational competition to see who can be the poppiest of the poppy. Little Lars is immediately determined to bring Eurovision glory to himself and to Iceland, though his fisherman father Erick (a bearded and glowering Pierce Brosnan) is disgusted by his son’s ambition. (Think Jon Voight and Ben Stiller in “Zoolander” for an idea of this father/son dynamic.)
Lars’ lifelong pal Sigrit (played by Rachel McAdams, with a running joke that she might be his sister but isn’t) buys into his grand dream. and tries to enlist some local elves that may or may not exist to help them achieve it. Everybody else just laughs at the duo, who call themselves Fire Saga and are despised by locals except when they play the catchy local favorite “Ya Ya Ding Dong.”
But in movies like this, there’s always a way, and in this case it involves an explosion that conveniently kills every other contender to be the Icelandic Eurovision entry. Before you know it, Fire Saga heads off to Glasgow to embarrass themselves in the grand Eurovision competition … or maybe, just maybe, they’ll rise to the occasion and triumph over their own ineptitude.
Far be it from me to spoil the big ending – and besides, what really matters is how many silly song parodies they can cram into the film (the performance by “21st Century Viking,” a swarthy Norseman singing in falsetto, is particularly delicious), how many times Lars and Sigrit can ignore their obvious attraction to each other (lots of times) and how ridiculous the whole thing can get (pretty damn ridiculous).
Ferrell and McAdams offer haphazard Icelandic accents but unbridled enthusiasm for donning preposterous outfits and embracing the silliness. (She also lip-syncs well.) Stevens lustily chews the scenery whether he’s on stage cracking a whip or in sequined loungewear seducing Sigrit, and Demi Lovato has some moments as a Greek chanteuse who for some reason is sweet on Lars.
It’s amusing, particularly if you’ve got a taste for kitschy pop. But really, kitschy pop essentially makes fun of itself – it doesn’t need Will Ferrell to help it along. Ferrell has long since moved beyond the “Saturday Night Live”-performer-makes-a-movie label, but at times “Eurovision Song Contest” does seem like a skit that just goes too far, for too long.
“Eurovision Song Contest” premieres June 26 on Netflix.