[Screen It]



(2020) (Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams) (PG-13)

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Comedy: Two Icelandic musicians set out to represent their country in a televised European singing competition where they're given next to no chance of winning.

Lars Erickssong (WILL FERRELL) and Sigrit Ericksdottir (RACHEL McADAMS) both came out of their shells as kids upon hearing ABBA sing during the annually televised Eurovision Song Contest and have been a musical duo ever since, much to the chagrin of Lars' long-widowed fisherman father, Erick (PIERCE BROSNAN). The rest of the locals in their small town aren't much more supportive and prefer the duo's band, Fire Saga, to play anything but their original music.

Their luck changes, however, when Neils Brongus (”LAFUR DARRI ”LAFSSON), President of Icelandic Public TV, declares that they need one more act to fill their quota of twelve for their local competition and Fire Saga is randomly selected. None of which sits well with Victor Karlosson (MIKAEL PERSBRANDT) Governor, Central Bank of Iceland, who's afraid that should they win -- with singer Katiana Lindsdottir (DEMI LOVATO) being favored -- their contractual hosting of the following year's show will bankrupt the whole country.

Things look bleak for the duo after a bad performance, but when the other eleven acts perish in a boat explosion, Lars and Sigrit end up traveling to Edinburgh, Scotland for the big show. There, they meet the likes of Russian singer Alexander Lemtov (DAN STEVENS) who takes a liking to Sigrit, and Greek singer Mita Xenakis (MELISSANTHIA MAHUT) who does the same to Lars, putting the duo on uneasy ground due to Lars wanting to hold off on any budding romance between the two while pursuing their music and hoping to win the contest.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10

If there's one thing you can say about Americans, it's that we're America-centric, with most of us not knowing what goes on in the rest of the world. For instance, while most of the rest of the globe is obsessed with the FIFA World Cup when it takes place, it's only been of recent that the event has gained some -- but still not much -- traction in the U.S. outside of soccer fans. While I have known about that sporting event, I must admit I had never heard of -- at least until just this week -- the Eurovision Song Contest.

Granted, America isn't a participant, but I'm shocked this annual event -- the longest-running annual international television contest that's had its 63-year run stopped by the coronavirus -- never hit my radar screen. After all, while once limited only to European countries, it's since expanded and some of the winners from past years have included Celine Deon and ABBA.

The appearance of the latter in the 1974 edition of the show is the kicking off point for "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga." With some locals in a small Icelandic fishing town gathered to watch the show, the Swedish quartet's singing of "Waterloo" gets two of the kids there -- young Lars who's been grieving the death of his mother and young Sigrit who's yet to speak her first word -- bopping and dancing around the living room to the upbeat song.

Flash-forward to the present day and Lars (Will Ferrell) and Sigrit (Rachel McAdams) still live in that town and perform music together as Fire Saga, much to the annoyance and disappointment of Lars' father (Pierce Brosnan). They've written original music, but the locals at the pub where they play only want to hear their favorite songs, including the fairly suggestive but undeniably catching "Ja Ja Ding Dong" (which will likely become an earworm for many a viewer).

Lars' dream is not only to enter the Eurovision Song Contest but also win it, something everyone except for Sigrit believes is next to impossible. But when the folks running Iceland public TV need to meet their rules and must select a twelfth band to fill out the roster, Fire Saga literally gets the luck of the draw. Their good fortune continues when their performance goes horribly awry and they don't end up on a party boat where an explosion kills the rest of the competitors (don't worry, that's all played for goofy laughs, the kind of which are often found in movies starring Mr. Ferrell).

So, the duo is soon off to Edinburgh for the big show but realize they're up against some stiff competition, including the strikingly handsome and uber-rich Alexander Lemtov (a scene-stealing Dan Stevens who needs his own movie playing this character) who sets his sights (seemingly romantically but really just professionally due to his forbidden sexual orientation in Mother Russia) on Sigrit, and Greek singer Mita Xenakis (Melissanthia Mahut) who finds herself attracted to Lars.

This, of course, puts the duo's performance relationship in jeopardy since they've never acted on their all-too-obvious romantic impulses, and lets Ferrell wallow in his usual man-child sort of character that he's known for playing with reckless abandon. Yes, and as directly related to that and his fabulous earlier career on "Saturday Night Live," this offering -- that Ferrell co-wrote with Andrew Steele and is directed by David Dobkin -- often feels like such a skit that's somehow escaped the confines of its usual three or four-minute structure and unfolded into feature-length form. And at a bit more than two hours, it's way too long for a silly pic like this.

Yet, despite often threatening to overstay its welcome, it ultimately turns out to be a charming, sweet and, yes, sometimes quite funny if at least fairly consistently amusing offering that should bring both a welcome respite from the current state of world affairs and some attention to the long-running, real-life show. And for that, "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga" rates as a 6 out of 10. Ja ja ding dong indeed.

Reviewed June 24, 2020 / Posted June 26, 2020

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