When the creators of “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” named their movie “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga,” were they TRYING to create one of the worst titles in cinematic history? If so: congratulations!
Some movie titles roll off the tongue. This one gets stuck in the back of your throat. But now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, credit to “ESCTSOFS” (that’s not any better, is it?) for succeeding at exactly what it wants to be: an incredibly goofy broad satire filled with wonderfully awful pop songs and infectiously over-the-top, all-in performances from the game ensemble cast headed by the incomparable Will Ferrell along with Rachel McAdams, Pierce Brosnan, Demi Lovato and Dan Stevens.
Director David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers,” “The Change-Up,” “Fred Claus”) and screenwriters Ferrell and Andrew Steele have done for televised song competitions what “Blades of Glory” did for ice skating, i.e., an affectionate lampoon. (Since 1956, the Eurovision Song Contest has been a real-life big deal in, well, Europe. Past winners include ABBA and Celine Dion.)
In a prologue set in the small Icelandic village of Husavik in 1974, young Lars Erickssong and little Sigrit Ericksdotir dance along to ABBA performing on the Eurovision Song Contest, much to the amusement of their respective families. Cut to present day, where the grown-up Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (McAdams) are performing a Viking synth-power pop ballad titled “Volcano Man” seemingly set against a wondrous “Game of Thrones” backdrop, but actually performed in front of a makeshift green screen in Lars’ basement, as Lars’ disapproving fisherman father Erik Erikssong (Pierce Brosnan) hollers from upstairs for them to keep it down. (Ferrell does his own vocals, while McAdams is dubbed by the Swedish pop singer Molly Sanden.)
The widowed Erik can’t hide his disappointment in Lars, a middle-aged parking meter attendant who still lives at home, has comically terrible long hair, wears appallingly loud clothes out of a 1970s sitcom and has been obsessed with representing Iceland in the Eurovision Song Contest ever since he was a lad. Sigrit is Lars’ partner in the group they call Fire Saga and is similarly stuck on this seemingly impossible dream — and she’s also stuck on the oblivious Lars, even though everyone who encounters them assumes they’re brother and sister. (“We are not,” Sigrit always replies. “Probably not,” chimes in Lars.)
Through a miracle of chance, Fire Saga is selected as one of 12 entrants in the nationally televised Icelandic Song Contest, with the winner going on to compete in Scotland for the European championship. Not that it matters, as the beloved and greatly talented Katiana (Demi Lovato) is a shoo-in to win — until a horrific tragedy (played perfectly for gruesome laughs) leaves Fire Saga as literally the only Icelandic contestants still standing. They’re going to Edinburgh!
“Eurovision Song Contest” is filled with lavish and often hilarious production numbers, featuring not only Fire Saga but the Russian oligarch/performer Alexander Lemtov (Dan Stevens, a million miles away from his Matthew Crawley character on “Downton Abbey”), who specializes in S&M stage work and has a crush on Sigrit, not to mention a party sequence in which all the finalists are joined by some fabulous drag queens for a medley of songs including Cher’s “Believe,” Madonna’s “Ray of Light” and the Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling.” The bloated running time of 2 hours and 3 minutes could have been trimmed a good 20 minutes by eliminating the rehearsal sequences and a few scenes where Lars and Sigrit bicker about this or that, but it’s fun to hear Ferrell and McAdams doing accents that make them sound a little like descendants of the “Wild and Crazy” Festrunk brothers from “Saturday Night Live.” (Ferrell remains the master of the deadpan farcical one-liner, as when he describes his penis as “like a Volvo: solid, sturdy, dependable, but not going to turn any heads.”)
As was the case with Christopher Guest spoofs such as “For Your Consideration” and “Best in Show,” we somehow find ourselves genuinely rooting for the ridiculous leads here even as we cringe at their antics. Dang it, Lars and Sigrit deserve to win this contest! Let’s all sing along with “Volcano Man.”
Woke up at night
I heard floating chords
They guided me
To the highland fjords
He’s got my melting heart
Volcanic Protector Man
A timeless hero must love too…
Fine, it’s just me singing right now. But I’ll bet you’ll join me after you see (hold on, let me check on that title again) “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.”