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An Eye on the Competition 

Eurovision Song Contest, Irrisistible and Balle Perdu

click to enlarge Enjoying Humboldt beaches without the crowds.

Eurovision Song Contest

Enjoying Humboldt beaches without the crowds.

EUROVISION SONG CONTEST: THE STORY OF FIRE SAGA. Sometimes — almost always, these days — comedy feels like the only chance we've got. Not as escapism, really, but as a reminder that having feelings doesn't necessarily mean always feeling bad and a chance to briefly dispel the cloud of fatalism that can so frequently block out the sun. Maybe it's too much to ask of David Dobkin's new movie, that a ridiculous farce about aged-out Icelandic pop wannabes undo the ills of a world in unprecedented tumult. In my defense, though, my hope felt justified: Eurovision stars Will Ferrell (who co-wrote the screenplay) and Rachel McAdams (whose acting I admire and for whom I harbor a middle-school crush), who collaborated so successfully with Dobkin on Wedding Crashers (2005). Both leads are certifiable scene stealers and the thought of McAdams stretching out to match Ferrell's innate, large-format goofiness is truly exciting. Their dynamic is indeed charming and funny and the fact that it can't fully save the movie (or the planet) could be more about me than them. Still, I can't help but think about how good this might have been.

Best friends Lars (Ferrell) and Sigrit (McAdams), as the duo Fire Saga, have spent decades honing their brand of power pop and dreaming of the big stage: the annual Eurovision Song Contest, which, for the uninitiated, is a real event and just as bonkers as the movie makes it out to be. Due to unforeseen circumstances created either by magical elves or espionage, Fire Saga qualifies for the contest. They're off to Edinburgh to contend not only with their competitors (Dan Stevens stands out as a hyper-sexualized Russian), but with their unacknowledged feelings for one another.

Which is all fine: the movie is polished, pleasant and ultimately innocuous. It relies pretty heavily on the novelty/pageantry of the contest for both its aesthetic and as a substitute for a more complex or involving plot. Light, uncomplicated and fairly brisk despite its two-hour running time, Eurovision will likely please the crowd, but it cannot be called a success. PG13. 123M. NETFLIX.

IRRESISTIBLE. While Will Ferrell seems to be moving up the autumn period of his career, becoming softer and slower with each new role, Steve Carell's out here making moves and getting sharper all the time. Plague season already saw the release of season one of Space Force, a spot-on goofball satire he co-created with Greg Daniels for Netflix. Now he leads the cast of Jon Stewart's latest indictment of the commercialization (read: corruption) of American politics and it is a fine thing indeed.

Carell plays Gary Zimmer, a Democrat campaign strategist between jobs. When a staffer directs his attention to a viral video of a retired Marine colonel storming a city council meeting in his rural Wisconsin town, Gary sees an opportunity. He heads to Deerlaken in the private jet, spends the day with Col. Jack Hastings (Chris Cooper) and decides to play kingmaker. He brings his formidable resources to bear on the tiny town's mayoral race, hoping to bring a moderate progressive candidate into the national spotlight and recapture the centrist base of the party. Soon enough, the national Republican party has thrown their weight behind incumbent mayor Braun (Brent Sexton) and sent in Faith Brewster (Rose Byrne), every inch Gary's nemesis.

Things get out of hand rather quickly, with rhetoric and campaign donations ramping up disproportionately in almost no time. It becomes clear that no matter who wins the election, the town doesn't really stand to gain anything except to be one way to measure a pissing contest. That is, unless the locals are more sophisticated than the politicos might think.

Irresistible succeeds where so many fail, in being genuinely entertaining and narratively complex without appearing to pander. This has much to do with the fact that Stewart believes unquestionably in the themes he's exploring with this movie, but it's also down to a deeply capable, compelling and committed ensemble cast. R. 101M. STREAMING ON DEMAND.

BALLE PERDU (LOST BULLET). People keep saying there's nothing left to watch on Netflix. I don't have the energy to correct them, nor do I believe they've actually scratched the surface. Sure, the platform isn't perfect, the catalog isn't all-encompassing. Everybody wants everything, right now and all of the time, but that's not how it works.

One of the things I find so satisfying about Netflix is its capacity to remind me of simpler times: the video store days, when browsing was sometimes more fun than watching whatever the browsing yielded. Furthermore, as a studio, it keeps cranking out genre trash, just like the old days. Maybe I want to watch a highly derivative French cops-and-robbers movie that promises car chases it never really delivers? So what? It makes me feel young.

I won't waste too much space or time describing it but Balle Perdu, despite its plot holes, posturing and questionable action sequences, triggered enough nostalgia and was so-bad-its-good enough to not only get me to commit to pressing play, but to keep me from pressing stop until the end credits. TVMA. 92M. NETFLIX.

John J. Bennett is a movie nerd who loves a good car chase and prefers he/him pronouns.

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