Remember when Will Ferrell was inarguably one of the funniest dudes in cinema? The cat was unstoppable in flicks like “The Ladies Man,” “Jay and Silent Bob Strike Back,” “Zoolander,” “Old School,” “Elf,” “Starsky & Hutch,” “Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy,” “Wedding Crashers,” “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby” and “Step Brothers.”
My mother-in-law has frequently asserted her hate for Ferrell. I always assumed this was serving in contrast to my love for him, but his recent output (“The Campaign,” “Get Hard,” “Daddy’s Home,” “The House” and especially “Holmes & Watson”) lends credence to her proclamations. Ferrell’s latest, “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” (now available for streaming on Netflix), isn’t a return to his glory days, but it’s a step in the right direction.
Ferrell stars as Lars Erickssong, an Icelandic singer/songwriter who’s dreamt of competing in the Eurovision Song Contest ever since he saw ABBA win it all as a tyke. His partner in crime and friend since childhood is Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) – together they perform as Fire Saga. Lars’ father, Erick (Pierce Brosnan), doesn’t approve of his son’s aspirations and puts him down at every opportunity. Sigrit wants more from Lars than a platonic/professional partnership, but he fears coupling could cloud their creative pursuits.
Somehow Fire Saga unseats Icelandic favorite Katiana (Demi Lovato) to secure a spot at Eurovision in Edinburgh, Scotland. It’s there that they meet pansexual Russian crooner Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens), who takes an interest in Sigrit.
Ferrell rocks a look that’s a combination of “Die Hard” terrorist and Doc Antle from “Tiger King” as Lars. He doesn’t bring the laughs as consistently as he did in his heyday, but you’d be hard-pressed not to bust a gut when Lars repeatedly verbally assaults a quartet of American tourists or throws a hissy fit resulting in him tipping over numerous trash cans and one porta potty.
McAdams has proven time and again what a good comedic actress she is – see “Mean Girls” and “Game Night.” She’s not given anything overly comical to do as Sigrit, but she’s very likable and her singing, which is an amalgamation of McAdams’ voice with that of Swedish songstress Molly Sandén, is strong.
Stevens is an actor I often enjoy … especially in director Adam Wingard’s action/horror hybrid “The Guest.” I’m kind of surprised his film career hasn’t blown up bigger. Stevens doesn’t do any of his own singing here despite having sung in “Beauty and the Beast” a few years back. He’s doubled by Swede Erik Mjönes. Screenwriters Ferrell and Andrew Steele do Stevens a great service by not making his romantic rival character a complete cad. Alexander is ultimately very likable and even sympathetic.
“Eurovision” director David Dobkin previously worked with both Ferrell and McAdams on “Wedding Crashers” … easily the best comedic effort on a resume littered with dreck like “Fred Claus” and “The Change-Up.” This doesn’t hit the heights of that Owen Wilson/Vince Vaughn team-up, but it’s also markedly better than the aforementioned junk. Some of the earnestness Dobkin brought to his last feature, the 2014 Robert Downey Jr vehicle, “The Judge,” finds its way into “Eurovision.” At 123 minutes “Eurovision” would’ve benefitted from 15 minutes of trimming, which is also true of almost every other entry on Dobkin’s filmography.
“Eurovision” isn’t especially funny, but it is consistently entertaining and surprisingly sweet. I don’t know if it says more about the movie itself or me as a viewer, but I actually teared up a tad near the conclusion.