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Review: Will Ferrell Netflix comedy 'Eurovision Song Contest' doesn't hit its spirit note

Ferrell stars with Rachel McAdams in movie based on popular European song competition

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic

We're used to Will Ferrell spinning stories of underdog dreamers in ridiculous fields, from the world of figure skating ("Blades of Glory") to obscure 1970s sports leagues ("Semi-Pro") to the North Pole ("Elf").

In "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga," he extends the formula to the popular international music competition that is part "American Idol," part Cirque du Soleil. But "Eurovision" is caught somewhere between reverence and derision, and it never quite finds its rhythm.

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams in "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga."

Ferrell plays the Icelandic Lars Erickssong, a — you guessed it — underdog dreamer who has had his sights set on competing in the Eurovision Song Contest since he saw ABBA win Eurovision in 1974. He's not much of a singer or a songwriter, but he's got heart, along with a partner, his sort-of girlfriend and maybe-sister (it's a running joke) Sigrit Ericksdottir (Rachel McAdams), who really can sing. They land a slot representing Iceland in the contest's semi-finals after an explosion kills all the other finalists. Talk about dumb luck. 

In Edinburgh for the competition, the pair comes across a cast of characters — including Russian pop god Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens in a juicy comic turn) and Greek seductress Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut) — whose motivations toward the duo are unclear. Meanwhile, back home, Lars' father Erick (Pierce Brosnan) wants his son to grow up and stop chasing his dreams. 

If it all sounds like it's copied from a blueprint with a few interchangeable details, it is, right down to the scenes of a dead silent room erupting into a slow clap, Our Hero giving up before making one last go of it and an against-the-clock race through the streets to get to the finals just in time. 

The key issue with "Eurovision" is its trouble identifying a comic tone. The performances are over-the-top but not quite funny, and a mid-film mashup of popular songs — including Cher's "Believe," Madonna's "Ray of Light" and ABBA's "Waterloo," which the Swedish popsters indeed regaled Eurovision with in '74 — feels like something out of "Pitch Perfect" or "The Greatest Showman." Are Ferrell, who co-wrote the script, and director David Dobkin ("Wedding Crashers") lampooning pop, a la "Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping," or paying homage to it?

If the movie had bigger laughs, it wouldn't matter. As it stands, "Eurovision" feels like a run through of songs you've heard sung better before. 

'Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga'

GRADE: C

Rated PG-13: for crude sexual material including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images, and language

Running time: 123 minutes

On Netflix

agraham@detroitnews.com

@grahamorama