By Leah Greenblatt
June 24, 2020 at 01:11 PM EDT
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John Wilson/NETFLIX

Ice dancers and NASCAR drivers; stepbrothers and semi-pros; elves and anchormen: Will Ferrell has embodied them all onscreen with a sort of lovable bread-loaf idiocy, a lumbering man-child puffed up on earnest hope and self-regard. He’s the eternal dreamer and the nimrod, the living embodiment of more (maybe too much) cowbell.

But there’s always been a sweetness to his performances too, and a certain softness to his targets; how hard is it, really, to find punchlines in subjects that have already walked themselves halfway to parody?

Eurovision, that annual Continental piñata of glitter and camp and outdated disco, hardly needs tweaking to become comedy. And so Eurovision the movie — officially, it’s Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga — surrenders early and often to the spandexed inanity of it all.

Ferrell stars as Lars Erickssong, a man whose only aspiration has always been to enter the contest, and win. The fact that he’s a now-middle-aged man living in an obscure Icelandic fishing village with no discernible musical gifts has scarcely dimmed his faith.

Even his father (a heavily bearded and bemused Pierce Brosnan) thinks he’s a delusional failure, and tells him daily. Only Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams) — his lifelong friend, partner in song, and “not my sister, probably” — believes, against all evidence, in Lars’ unshakable dream.

But the plot requires that the insurmountable be mounted, of course. And so the pair make their unlikely way toward Eurovision semifinals glory in Edinburgh, blind optimism and double synthesizers in tow.

Demi Lovato makes a Galadriel-like cameo as an early homeland competitor, though it’s British actor Dan Stevens (Legion, Downton Abbey) who rides in as the pair’s true rival, a beguiling, apricot-tinted Russian named Alexander Lemtov. Hair lovingly feathered and chest bare beneath a series of brocade blazers, he slithers and purrs like a Putin pussycat, dining delightedly on every line.

Which is more than can maybe be said of Ferrell and McAdams; she’s endlessly game — and in a few more emotional scenes, far better than the movie ever requires — but both of them are chained to “Icelandic” accents pulled from some linguistic map no self-identifying Nord has ever heard of. (Instead, the pair mostly end up sounding vaguely like Transylvanian babies, or just themselves.)

Director David Dobkin (Wedding Crashers, Fred Claus) lets the story move at a sort of leisurely riverboat-cruise pace, wandering unhurriedly through silly setups and subplots. He often blurs the line, too, between skewering and celebrating the contest; an after-hours sing-off that seems to promise peak lunacy is played not for laughs but as a sort of sincere celebration, with real-life alumni.

There are undeniably moments, many of them wordless: a floundering Ferrell in a snow-white onesie with a homemade codpiece; a hamster-wheel stage stunt gone horrendously wrong. If it all feels like less than the sum of all that wig glue and flop sweat and silver lamé — and far short of Ferrell's best — it's also still the kind of movie that frankly, the lowered expectations of These Times are made for: Not a new song or even a very good one, but somehow still enough to hum along. B–

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