There are funny lines, hilarious scenes and the occasional blast of gleeful, Eurovision excess rolled into “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”
Sure, it’s an old school “high concept” star vehicle — a lot like many an earlier Will Ferrell comedy, “Semi-Pro” and “Blades of Glory,” for instance. Nobody does those better than Ferrell, so there’s that.
But Judas Apatow Priest, who EDITED this hulk? Anything cute, funny or charming gets lost in that Netflix-indulged Apatowantiasis, a glorious “SNL” sketch gag stretched to true “saga” length, a bloated, leaden two hours-plus.
The hip kids were never into the annual “Eurovision Song Contest,” a televised cheese plate serving up generic pop in grandiose stage presentations, one performer or band per country every year (save this one, COVID-canceled) for the past 60 years.
But in one fairydust-sprinkled moment, ABBA won and spun that win into global fame. It’s that moment that launches “The Story of Fire Saga,” because little Lars Erickssong forgot about his dead mother for a moment and danced wildly in front of the TV, embarrassing the hell out of his gruff, fisherman dad (Pierce Brosnan).
And little silent Sigrit Ericksdottir fell into the same “Waterloo” rapture with Lars that night in 1974. That became their shared goal and their shared lives.
Now, 46 years later, they’re still chasing that dream with their small Icelandic town’s cover band, Fire Saga, and its aged accordionist and tween drummer. Romance? No, they can’t have that, no matter now much Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) wants it.
Because “You are brother-sister?”
“No. Probably not.”
It’s because love “tears bands apart — Fleetwood Mac, ABBA, Post Malone, Semen & Garfunkel…”
“Right. I forgot about de Semen.”
They may cover Pharrell Williams’ hit “Happy,” and submit to endless drunken requests for “Ya Ya Ding Dong” from the barflies. But they dream of donning Viking gear and singing their “Double Trouble” love song for all the civilized world on TV at Eurovision.
Shockingly, events conspire to send them to Eurovision in Edinburgh. Their partnership is tested, their back-country eyes opened to a world of big talents with omnivorous sexual appetites.
Ferrell, who co-wrote the script, and director David Dobkin make the most of Netflix’s travel money, capturing the glories of Iceland and the wonders of parking a bewigged Will and whiter-than-white Rachel in it.
Edinburgh, the Scottish Sin City where the film’s version of Eurovision is staged, gets some lovely travelogue moments.
The songs are broadly funny and BIG, in keeping with the character of the contest. None quite cross over into hilarious, although many provide a chuckle.
Demi Lovato plays the Icelandic favorite who doesn’t get to compete, but who “haunts” Lars as he goes more and more outlandish with a stage production that easily overwhelms their sweet little ditty.
Dan Stevens is a hoot as a closeted Russian pop idol who makes music the homoerotic way.
The one giddy scene is a tracking shot through a “sing around,” competitors partying and vamping up a medley of Cher, ABBA, Madonna et al hits.
But the best line is landed back home in Husevik, in the bar where the locals gather to watch the competition and — knowing the ineptitude of the hometown band — “take our medicine.”
Eurovision veterans pepper the bit players cast, including the transgender Austrian Conchita Wurst, presented as just a smidgen more than sight gag.
Little here surprises, although the way the first act skips through the preliminaries you might puzzle over “How’re they going to get another 90 minutes out of this?”
By the usual ways — overextending scenes, making Graham Norton the anchor of BBC coverage of the contest, leaving in jokes that don’t land and staggering toward one of two possible finales.
Ferrell is better than this at this stage of his career, and yet he still gives it his all. It’s good to see McAdams back at work after having a baby, even if she doesn’t do her own singing.
But the quickest, silliest and sunniest way to get your fill of Eurovision is hunting up performances on Youtube, none more delightfully primitive than ABBA’s breakout moment in 1974.
“The Fire Saga Story” has barely enough sparks for a sketch, much less a “saga.”
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images, and language
Cast: Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Demi Lovato, Dan Stevens
Credits: Directed by David Dobkin, script by Will Ferrell, Andrew Steele. A Netflix release.
Running time: 2:03