Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga

Reviewed By Peter Sobczynski
Posted 06/25/20 05:35:35

"a.k.a. Will Ferrell's Waterloo"
1 stars (Total Crap)

The Eurovision Song Contest is a yearly competition in which over 50 eligible countries, mostly European-based, submit a homegrown act to perform an original song before an enormous audience in the hopes that they will be determined the winner. The contest has been running since 1956 (although this year’s edition was cancelled due to coronavirus fears) and a number of the participants have indeed gone on to international fame, such as contestants Lulu, Nana Mouskouri, Julio Iglesias and Olivia Newton-John and winners Celine Dion and ABBA, whose 1974 victory launched them into instant superstardom. With the combination of slick music, glitzy-gaudy costumes and high drama, the contest would seem to be a natural subject for an entertaining film. Perhaps one will eventually come along and “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” can be forgotten even quicker than it deserves to be. The latest misfire from Will Ferrell, this is a weirdly leaden botch of a film that has no discernible comedic point or purpose, inexplicably goes on forever and produces only a couple of mild and very scattered laughs amidst a seemingly endless array of dead spots.

The film actually kicks off with a prologue based around the aforementioned ABBA win, as two withdrawn Icelandic children, Lars and Sigrit, come out of their shells to dance to the infectious rhythms emerging from the television. In the present day, the two (now played by Ferrell and Rachel McAdams) are still pursuing their—okay, Lars’s—dream of one day winning the Eurovision contest with their musical act, Fire Saga. Alas, they are not especially good and Lars’s insistence in pursuing this dream has made him an embarrassment in the eyes of his grumpy widower father (Pierce Brosnan) and most of the rest of the town. Sigrit stands by him throughout but she is less interested in musical glory than in marrying Lars and starting a family. (They have been so close for so long that there is a running joke in which people who meet them assume they are brother and sister, a notion that Lars does not go out of his way to correct.) However, Lars’s insistence pays off when the word arrives that Fire Saga has been selected as one of twelve acts to compete for the honor of representing Iceland in the contest. What he doesn’t know is that there is already a presumptive winning act (yes, a surprise cameo) and Fire Saga has been selected at random to fill out the twelfth spot on the roster.

They go off to the regional competition and predictably blow it. However, due to a ghastly twist of fate, Fire Saga ends up winning on a technicality and Lars and Sigrit are off to Scotland to compete at Eurovision. After they arrive, the two find their previously unshakable bond threatened by outside forces. Determined to win at all costs, Lars unilaterally elects to give the song they are performing a ghastly techno sheen and adds elaborately tacky costumes and choreography into the mix, none of which Sigrit is comfortable with. There are romantic complications as well—having been overlooked by Lars as anything other than a singing partner for so long, Sigrit finds herself the focus of the attentions of Alexander (Dan Stevens), the slick, suave and super-rich Russian who is favored win the competition while Lars is pursed by the sexy Israeli entrant (Melissanthi Mahut). Weirdly, this painfully predictable romantic subplot ends up dominating most of the proceedings and bloats the running time to an unconscionable 123 minutes while pushing the music-related material to the background.

In other words, “Eurovision Song Contest” is yet another movie in which Will Ferrell plays an overgrown man-child who eventually learns to grow up (sort of) set amidst backgrounds or situations that presumably lend themselves to any number of bizarre comedic setpieces. This is a formula that Ferrell has returned to time and again, sometimes successfully (“Anchorman”) and sometimes less so (“Talladega Nights,” “Blades of Glory,” “The House” to name just a few). This is one of the weakest of the lot because there is never a single moment in which I could figure what Ferrell (who also co-wrote the screenplay) and director David Dobkin were hoping to accomplish. Those expecting to see a wicked satire of the Eurovision competition and all of its surrounding pomp and circumstance will discover that other than a couple of easy jokes about tacky costumes, the film presents it in the most positive and fawning of terms. Those looking for a film that understands the appeal of Eurovision will be frustrated by the focus on the painfully uninteresting romantic triangle between Lars Sigrit and Alexander that becomes even more useless when it turns out that the latter is not really the bad guy that he seems at first. (There is a bad guy but that plot thread is so tenuous that it feels like a remnant from an earlier draft that accidentally found its way back into the final script.) After a while, you begin to sense that the only reason that this film even exists is because Ferrell wanted to dress up in goofy outfits, take on a bizarre accent, sing a number of songs and make out with Rachel McAdams and figured out a way to not only do all these things but get Netflix to foot the bill in the process. I can’t argue with that way of thinking—I wouldn’t mind dressing in goofy outfits, taking on a bizarre accent, singing a number of songs and making out with Rachel McAdams on someone else’s dime either—but the resulting film is a one-joke affair in which a.) the one joke is not particularly amusing to begin with and b.) is stretched out to nearly unendurable lengths with subplots and plot developments that are inane even by the standards of contemporary wacky comedies.

Speaking of McAdams, she is pretty much the one element of the film that really works. This is notable because she has been given virtually nothing of substance to work with here—her only notable character traits are her steadfast and sometimes inexplicable love for Lars and her fervent belief that elves exist, a notion that sounds like an absurdist one-off joke but which the film keeps returning to time and again. Nevertheless, she gives it her all and while her efforts are inevitably in vain, she does so much with so little here that it makes you yearn to see her in a genuinely well-crafted comedy as soon as possible. Stevens also makes an effort as well but he is hampered by a character whose function is never quite made clear. Ferrell, on the other hand, turns in a sleepy, sloppy performance in which all of his energy and effort appears to have gone into selecting his ridiculous wig. He might have been able to get away with that if this had been a ten-minute-long “SNL” skit—the kind that pops up late in the show after the audience ratings are no longer being tracked and the stranger bits are allowed to come out. The only other performer of note is Brosnan, who only turns up in a few scenes and seems to have been included as some kind of in-joke involving his own connection with ABBA via “Mama Mia,” which is only notable because it marks the very rare occasion when a film could be compared to “Mama Mia” in any way and not automatically come out on the winning end of such a matchup.

During the finale of “Eurovision Song Contest”—sometime in what feels like hour 19—a character makes a speech about the power of music—and all art, by extension—that clearly comes from the heart of the artist. That is a nice sentiment, of course, but it is one that this film never manages to apply to itself. This is lazy hackwork made by people who have clearly run out of ideas and who are running on creative fumes. The jokes aren’t funny, the sentiment is laughable and the whole thing has the kind of disjointed feel not seen in a Ferrell film since “Wake Up, Ron Burgundy!” Of course, that film had an excuse for its uneveness—it was created entirely from footage that had been shot for and cut out of the original “Anchorman.” This one, on the other hand, just feels like scraps culled from the cutting room floor of another and hopefully better movie.

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