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There's no reason for Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga to be good, and since in fact it isn't good, that works out. But oh, how tantalisingly close to "good" it comes! The latest entry in the moribund "Will Ferrell does a profession poorly but arrogantly, perhaps while adopting a goofy accent" genre (and just how long has it been since we've had a proper one of those? Anchorman 2 back in 2013? I suppose 2018's Holmes & Watson technically counts, but that feels like something different) is based in Ferrell's years-long fascination with Eurovision, a pan-European pop music contest that has grown increasingly less obscure in the United States, though I'm pretty sure most Americans still don't care, given that they don't let us compete (and they shouldn't, with, y'know, the whole "Euro" thing). Basically, it's an opportunity for artists from across the continent to indulge in camp spectacle of the highest order, performing earwormy songs with the grandest, gaudiest productions that those songs can bear. It's a kinetic, overwhelmingly visual orgy of multimedia stimulation, and this makes it a natural fit for the movies.

Crucially, I don't think it's a natural fit for a movie comedy, or at least not the kind of comedy Ferrell specialises in, where you rip the stuffing out of something painfully earnest and square, like local television news, or NASCAR, or semi-pro sports. Eurovision might be earnest, but it is not square. It is so immensely kitschy and campy that there's basically no room left over to actually parody it; it could not possibly be a more knowing parody of itself as it stands. So basically all that's left is to simply celebrate it, and I guess that's what Ferrell and co-writer Andrew Steele have done here, presenting something that is already inherently goofy as being... inherently goofy. This results in a kind of peculiar half-hearted comedy; the whole thing is structured to have jokes and all, but a surprising number of them don't actually seem like they want to be funny. It's just, like, watching Eurovision, and maybe squirreling a joke away in a cut. But they're not really energetic jokes. What leaps to mind is a running gag that starts midway through the film, when British television personality Graham Norton appears as himself to do caustic running commentary on our hapless protagonists and their awful act. It is very clearly - like, very, very, very clearly - based on the Elizabeth Banks and John Michael Higgins characters from Pitch Perfect and its sequels, but that kind of perfectly encapsulates what's weird about the writing in Eurovision. In Pitch Perfect, Banks and Higgins are getting a lot of absurd one-liners and surprising cruel jabs, things that telegraph themselves as jokes. Norton basically just says "they're bad! Aren't they so bad? Let's see how they'll be bad this time" over and over again, and I can't tell, is this meant to be funny? That it isn't is beside the point - this doesn't even feel like humor. It just feels like storytelling.

Anyway, the strangely light load of jokes in Eurovision is one thing, but it's not really the big problem. In fact, I do really suspect that the whole movie could be fixed just by changing one thing, from which I suspect most of the other problems all descend: this is a disgustingly long film. 123 minutes is a murderous length of time for a comedy if your name isn't Billy Wilder (and sometimes even if it is), and Eurovision wastes that insane, indulgent running time by going all-in on the plot of a pair of Icelandic friends and singing partners, Lars Erickssong (Ferrell) and Sigrit Ericksdóttir (Rachel McAdams), AKA Fire Saga, who have gotten a nice way into middle age without ever breaking bigger than performing in the bar in the small town where they've always lived. In order to fill a quota, they get randomly selected to compete for Iceland's spot at Eurovision, and of course fail terribly, but when the other 11 competitors all die in a boat explosion, the rules say they have to get the nod. And so they keep managing to fail upwards despite being surrounded by more talented, sexier people, some of whom are trying to seduce and sabotage them for some reason, despite it clearly being the case that Fire Saga poses no conceivable threat.

The point of the movie, obviously, is for Ferrell and McAdams to pratfall together and apart, while employing accents that, sure, we might as well say are "Icelandic". That point hardly requires a two-hour running time, and Eurovision isn't using its bloated length to those ends: it is very inexplicable interested in the narrative, of all damn things. This would be bad enough even if the story wasn't the most desperately predictable thing (I am not sure if there was a single plot point in the last three-quarters of the film that I didn't call in advance, down to some fairly specific detail in some cases, and I have every faith that you would be able to do the same), which just calls attention to how much damn time it takes for it to make its inevitable trudge to the climax.

So step number one: ruthlessly kill off a good half-hour - hell, make it 40 minutes! - and get rid of all that damnable character conflict and endless scene after scene of Ferrell moping and McAdams pining for him. Steps number two and onward probably mostly take care of themselves, at that point. The thing is, other than being kind of pointedly unfunny, Eurovision Song Contest is actually pretty good in a lot of ways. The songs - four by Fire Saga, a good half-dozen by other groups, and a massive sing-along mashup starring several real-life Eurovision competitors that stops the film dead  in its tracks, right in the middle - are pretty good examples of the form, and sufficiently different in style and tone that it doesn't ever feel too repetitive. The biggest problem with the music, I'd say, is that we get hardly any full performances. And McAdams is actively terrific, throwing herself into the silliness of the material without doing anything to put herself outside of it with sarcastic superiority, the way Ferrell sometimes does. She imbues the whole film with bubbly, cheerful energy, and she makes all of her scenes feel like proper comedy, even when there aren't clear punchlines or comic rhythms. And there are other good cast members, too - Dan Stevens as a dangerously sexy, ambiguously gay Russian; Pierce Brosnan as Lars's angry, unsupportive father, mirthlessly hating pop music and singing in what I like to think is at least a slightly deliberate riff on his infamous butchery of ABBA in 2008's Mamma Mia! - enough to keep the film moving forward even when it has no apparent destination. Hell, even Ferrell is more silly and less obnoxious here than he has been in many of these films.

So there is much that is likeable in Eurovision Song Contest. But there's also much that isn't, simply due to the amount of muchness the film has. Anything this fizzy and insubstantial needs to glide, quickly getting in, doing its entertaining razzle dazzle for just long enough that we're distracted, and then getting right back out. Eurovision lumbers: the plot scenes gluing the actual comedy bits together crawl by endlessly and pointlessly, and even the film's most clever touches tend to get swallowed up by the sheer glut of the thing. It's a bauble being treated like a medicine ball.