It’s telling perhaps that a key scene in “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga” involves Will Ferrell rolling around a stage in a giant hamster wheel.
Because Ferrell is a real hamster of a comedian – repeating the same schtick over and over but never really going anywhere. Like a hamster in his wheel, Ferrell’s schtick was funny at first- his golden age of 2003 to 2007 produced some bona fide comedy classics from “Elf” and “Old School” to “Talladega Nights” and “Blades of Glory”- but the novelty has quickly worn off.
Ferrell’s more recent rotations around his career hamster wheel have become increasingly futile, and according to Rotten Tomatoes, he hasn’t had a “fresh” live-action film since 2013. No matter how bad the movie, Ferrell always gives a lot of energy, but he mostly just ends up exhausting himself and the audience.
A lot has changed in comedy and the world since Ferrell’s heyday a decade ago. But Ferrell, for better or worse, hasn’t changed. He’s still playing the same ignorant, over-confident man-child he always has. Now that he’s well over 50, is it too much to ask that he grow up a little bit – or at least find some new jokes?
All this to say that “Eurovision” is a quintessential, if incredibly minor, entry in the Will Ferrell canon. Those who still find Ferrell’s schtick funny after all this time will probably enjoy it more than I did. But for those, like me, who wish that Ferrell would challenge himself a bit, it is endlessly frustrating.
The film revolves, as you may imagine, around the titular song contest – a real-life European “American Idol”-esque competition that is probably most notable (or infamous) for giving the world the music of ABBA.
Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play Iceland’s entries into this year’s Eurovision contest, who are just lucky to be there. They entered the top 12 in the Icelandic finals due to a technicality. They made it to Eurovision after the other 11 Icelandic contestants died in a boat fire.
Once the Icelandic team gets to Eurovision, “Eurovision” hits all the expected Ferrell movie beats- an unrequited love interest, characters with voracious sexual appetites (in this case, Dan Stevens as the Russian competitor), slapstick mayhem and penis jokes. There are also, thankfully, some rather amusing musical interludes.
Director David Dobkin is an inspired choice for this material – not just because he directed Ferrell and McAdams 15 years ago in “Wedding Crashers” but also because he has a rather lengthy career as a music video director for artists ranging from Elton John to Tupac to Maroon 5.
Dobkin’s music video bona fides come out in the production numbers, which are easily the film’s highlights. He also manages at least one genuinely crowd-pleasing moment- a tracking shot through a “song-a-long” where the competitors cover a variety of pop standards by artists ranging from ABBA to the Black Eyed Peas.
If the comedic moments never have the energy of the musical ones, that is not for a lack of effort. Ferrell, as always, is cranked up to an 11, and he is matched scene-for-scene by McAdams and Stevens who bring a demented energy to the proceedings.
But Dobkin seems to think that the musical moments, frantic mugging, crazy costumes and thick Icelandic accents excuse a script without any jokes. They don’t.
Because “Eurovision” is a wasteland of humor – a comedic No Man’s Land. And that only becomes more apparent since the story is stretched painfully thin over two agonizing hours. What might have been tolerable and mildly funny as a five-minute “SNL” sketch just goes on and on, and it never gets any funnier.
The costumes and musical numbers are quirky, certainly, but rarely cross over into funny. The few jokes are beaten into the ground multiple times, despite not being that funny to begin with. Take, for example, the groaner that implies that the romantically involved Ferrell and McAdams may actually be brother and sister. It is repeated at least half a dozen times – probably more.
There was exactly one joke in “Eurovision” (rated PG-13 for crude sexual content including full nude sculptures, some comic violent images and language) that I thought was funny enough to merit writing down. It comes when Ferrell tries, and fails, to get a little flirty with a beautiful lady.
“My penis is like a Volvo automobile,” he says. “It’s solid, sturdy and dependable but not going to turn any heads.”
For years, Ferrell was the Volvo of comedians, but that automobile has pretty clearly run out of gas at this point. Maybe it’s time to get off the hamster wheel for a while Will. You- and your audience- need a bit of a breather.
About the author
Stephen Dow is an award-winning journalist with a passion for film – not just consuming it, but thoughtfully and actively engaging with it. He believes that these modern myths have a lot to tell us about our world and ourselves. He can be reached at email@example.com.