Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, review – Will Ferrell is painfully unfunny (again)
Dir: David Dobkin. Cast: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens, Melissanthi Mahut, Demi Lovato, Mikael Persbrandt, Pierce Brosnan. 15 cert, 123 mins
Sending up the Eurovision Song Contest is like flattening Salisbury Plain: one quick look at the thing should be enough to reassure you that the job took care of itself long ago. Nevertheless, Will Ferrell has decided to give it a shot, and the result is this pulverisingly unfunny and vacuous two-hour gauntlet run of non-tertainment.
Allow me to declare myself, at the outset, a longstanding Ferrell fan: I think his 2000s menagerie of loose-cannon manchildren is a genuinely artistically significant body of work, as well as a wildly entertaining one. (Twelve years on, it’s hard to think of a film that more precisely and devastatingly captured the cultural moment than Step Brothers.) But the schtick has unquestionably run its course, and two recent attempts to spin it off in interesting new directions – Downhill and Holmes & Watson – both ended in laughless calamity.
In Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga, the same applies. Ferrell plays Lars Erickssong, an Icelandic Eurovision obsessive and one half of the amateur pop duo Fire Saga, who has dreamt of representing his nation at the contest since childhood. His bandmate is Sigrit Erickssdottir (Rachel McAdams), a fey and naive lifelong friend who is “probably not” also his sister – though Lars’s absurdly handsome father Erick Erickssong (a game Pierce Brosnan) went through a womanising period, so no-one in their remote fishing village can be entirely confident she isn’t. This is the film’s one good joke.
Thanks to a sequence of events that owes an equal debt to King Ralph and Father Ted, Fire Saga manage to secure a place in the Eurovision finals by default – so off they jet to the host city of Edinburgh, and promptly fall prey to the usual show-business pitfalls. One comes in the lissom form of Dan Stevens’s Alexander Lemtov, a predatory Russian contender who seems to have designs on Sigrit, while Lars is beguiled in turn by Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut), the comely Greek entrant, and his own ballooning ego.
Unwarranted confidence and all-consuming rivalries are standard Ferrellian dynamics – Lemtov alone is a poor man’s Stranz Van Waldenberg from Blades of Glory, or Jean Girard from Talladega Nights. But perhaps thanks to the film’s official (and ubiquitous) Eurovision branding, every punch feels pulled, and every gag fine-tooth-combed for potential PR sore points to be neutralised. There are virtually no jokes at all, for example, about cultural eccentricities or difference, in a film about the Eurovision Song Contest. Nor is it ever clear whether Fire Saga themselves are supposed to be geniuses in the making or a legitimate national embarrassment. (Their music itself is merely OK.)
Former Eurovision stars from Elina Nechayeva to Conchita Wurst – what do you mean, who? – are dutifully assembled for a cameo-heavy singalong at the film’s midpoint that features such inspired and stimulating musical choices as Abba’s Waterloo and I Gotta Feeling by The Black Eyed Peas.
It’s the comedic equivalent of one of those bland, glassy-eyed international blockbusters that’s designed to be sold to the Chinese and American markets with no adjustments – not a film so much as two hours of lump-free, vaguely film-like audiovisual paste. The one identifiable bit of local colour? Graham Norton, playing himself in the commentary booth, and looking for the most part like he’d rather be anywhere else in the world. One sympathises.