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EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (2020) review

June 29, 2020

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written by: Will Ferrell & Andrew Steele
produced by: Jessica Elbaum, Eitan Evan, Will Ferrell, & Chris Henchy
directed by: David Dobkin
rated: Rated PG-13 (for crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images, and language)
runtime: 123 min.
U.S. release date: June 26, 2020 (Netflix)

 

“Hello from Iceland, we’re all very sorry and promise to pick someone better next year.”

 

Anyone who has followed comedy closely enough for the last twenty years and can recognize certain directors likely gets a shiver down their spine whenever the name David Dobkin appears. His previous films include “Shanghai Knights,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Fred Claus,” and “The Change-Up,” all of which have two things in common. First, they’re all at or near two hours long, an excessive running time for a comedy, and second, they don’t have nearly enough laughs to sustain that two hour running time.

This glaring issue on his cv continues with his latest effort, “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” a film is as impossibly long-winded as its title. The film isn’t completely devoid of charm and certainly has its moments, but it’s stretched so impossibly thin that its two hour running time seems to be the biggest joke in the film’s arsenal.

American Will Ferrell, who co-wrote and co-produced the film, stars as Lars Ericcsong, an Icelandic musician still living at home with his father (Ireland’s Pierce Brosnan), a fisherman who strongly disapproves of his son’s chosen vocation. It seems the only person in town who does believe in Lars is Sigrid Ericksdottir (Canada’s Rachel McAdams), a woman who is “probably not” his sister, with whom he forms the band Fire Saga.

 

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The pair dreams of performing their music on an international stage but must instead settle for entertaining the locals at a pub who only ever want to hear their catchy tune “Ja Ja Ding Dong.” These are, indeed, the jokes people. Their fortunes seem to change when they are randomly chosen to perform in the Icelandic song contest that will see the winner sent to that year’s Eurovision. Unbeknownst to them, the whole thing is a set-up to send the beloved Icelandic pop star Katiana (Demi Lovato) to the competition. Tragedy strikes twice, once during their performance and again after it, leading Fire Saga to be the only competitors left for Iceland to send to Eurovision.

After this agonizingly protracted set-up, the pair finally make their way to Edinburgh, Scotland where they meet Russian singing sensation Alexander Lemtov (Brit Dan Stevens). Channeling George Michael by way of a Russian Bond villain, Stevens is clearly having a lot of fun with a character with little in the way of dimension or development. He exists solely to cause a rift between Lars and Sigrid, and a third act revelation about his character comes as a surprise to no one except him.

 

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“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” has its heart in the right place and never uses the beloved song competition as the butt of any of its jokes. However, the distracting presence of Americans, Canadians, Irishmen, and Brits playing characters of other ethnicities makes it reek of “we weren’t invited to the party so we threw our own party instead.”

It’s not a terrible movie, it’s competently made, designed, and performed, but it feels like the world’s most expensive inside joke told by people who aren’t on the inside. Ferrell and co-writer Andrew Steele created the telenovela spoof “Casa de mi Padre,” and the miniseries spoofs “The Spoils of Babylon” and “The Spoils Before Dying,” all of which suffer from this same issue. The specificity of the humor is likely hilarious to anyone with intimate knowledge of what they’re spoofing, but it’s alienating to roughly 95% of the audience.

Instead, the rest of the audience is left to cling to a hackneyed plot that’s been done to death by this point, even by Ferrell himself, who seems to always play a similarly stunted man-child with a ridiculous wig and equally ridiculous dream he should’ve given up long ago. Having just recently seen “Blades of Glory” for the first time, I can comfortably say this is essentially the exact same movie but with singing instead of ice skating. Almost beat-for-beat at times.

 

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This is also indicative of a larger problem which is that the film sidelines any female characters of importance. In fact, there really aren’t any female characters of substance outside of Rachel McAdams’ Sigrid, and even she is given hardly anything to do other than stand by her man, so to speak. This boys club mentality likely ruined what could have been a great opportunity for more humorous female characters to have populated the film, but instead Ferrell, Stevens, Brosnan, and Graham Norton playing himself deliver roughly 90% of the film’s total jokes. To be clear, this isn’t why “Eurovision Song Contest” is not a very good film, but it’s definitely one of the major contributing factors.

“Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” is a decent enough distraction for anyone who likes Ferrell’s shtick, but it is as forgettable as any of the other dozen similar films he’s made over the course of his career. It feels a bit like a two-hour long comedy set where every punchline is, “Europeans, amirite?” If you’re really and truly hard up for new content, there are much worse ways to spend two hours right now. There are also much better ways to spend those two hours, though, so don’t be fooled into thinking this is your only option.

 

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RATING: *1/2

 

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