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'Eurovision Song Contest' review: Will Ferrell's latest is a low-key and surprisingly gentle comedy

Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir, Will Ferrell

 Rachel McAdams as Sigrit Ericksdottir, Will Ferrell as Lars Erickssong in "Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga." Credit: NETFLIX/Aidan Monaghan

PLOT An Icelandic musical duo enters a world-renowned talent contest.

CAST Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens

RATED PG-13 (some crude humor)

LENGTH 2:03

WHERE Streaming on Netflix

BOTTOM LINE Ferrell’s latest is a low-key and surprisingly gentle comedy.

Will Ferrell and Rachel McAdams play small-town Icelanders with pop-star dreams in “Eurovision Song Contest: The Story of Fire Saga.” It’s quintessential Ferrell, from its broadly ridiculous characters to its absurdly long title. It’s also surprisingly ambitious in scope, with elaborate costumes, polished musical numbers and stunning international backdrops.

For all that, “Eurovision Song Contest” turns out to be – well, kind of cute. It has some of the unhinged antics we expect from Ferrell, but mostly it borders on something straightforward and sincere. You might be expecting another “Talladega Nights,” but what you’ll get is closer to “Pitch Perfect.”

By now, even Americans are passingly familiar with the Eurovision Song Contest, a forerunner to “American Idol” and every show like it. Founded in 1956 as a kind of post-war, pop-musical United Nations, its most famous success stories are Sweden’s ABBA, who won in 1974 (with “Waterloo”) and Celine Dion, a Canadian who inexplicably won by representing Switzerland in 1988. It’s prime territory for lampoonery and buffoonery, though the film opts for affectionate tribute instead.

Enter Lars (Ferrell), and Sigrit (McAdams), who for years have been performing as Fire Saga, the least-liked (and only) band in their tiny town. After a series of implausible events, they are chosen to represent Iceland at the coming Eurovision contest in Edinburgh, Scotland. They’re babes in the woods, and here come their predators: the sensuous Greek diva Mita Xenakis (Melissanthi Mahut) and the Russian sex-god Alexander Lemtov (a terrific Dan Stevens, with frosted hair and a voice like warm massage-oil). Will Fire Saga be torn asunder by temptation?

“Eurovision Song Contest” is nicely directed by David Dobkin (“Wedding Crashers”), but it suffers from overly familiar characters (Pierce Brosnan plays Lars’ disapproving dad) and its slapstick routines never quite stick the landing. The movie does, however, boast several slick musical performances, all set to tracks by established writer-producers (their credits include Ariana Grande, Usher and Demi Lovato, who has a small role). These songs aren’t terribly funny, but they can be a lot of fun.

“Eurovision Song Contest” tries to blend typical Ferrell lunacy and mainstream musical comedy, with uneven results. You may, however, find yourself humming Fire Saga’s “Jaja Ding Dong,” an inane ditty with the wonderfully garbled lyric, “My love for you is open wide and long.”

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA (2 1/2 STARS)

PLOT An Icelandic musical duo enters a world-renowned talent contest.

CAST Will Ferrell, Rachel McAdams, Dan Stevens

RATED PG-13 (some crude humor)

LENGTH 2:03

WHERE Netflix

BOTTOM LINE Ferrell’s latest is a low-key and surprisingly gentle comedy.

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