Review by Jonathan W. Hickman
The process of making “Songbird” had to be more entertaining than the film itself.
Jumping at the chance to roll cameras and grab headlines, “Transformers” producer Michael Bay touted this project as the first production to shoot in Los Angeles after the pandemic shutdown. And the rushed nature of his effort is crushingly evident.
“Songbird” takes place in 2024. COVID-19 has mutated, leaving a large portion of the world’s population at grave risk. Martial law reigns supreme as those infected are taken to quarantine camps known as “Q-Zones,” where, presumably, they die. We never see the inside of this walled-off, heavily policed encampment.
Not everyone is susceptible to the constantly changing virus. Nico (“Riverdale’s” K.J. Apa) is an immune, young bike courier who rides the streets delivering packages to folks barricaded in their homes. His immunity gives him freedom but also leaves him alone. The once-great Western metropolis is mostly empty. We get shots that remind us of 2007’s “I Am Legend.”
Luckily for Nico, one of his clients is a beautiful artist named Sara (Sofia Carson), and the two strike up an awkward romance. Because Sara cannot leave her apartment, the potential lovers can’t physically meet one another. But when Sara’s grandma becomes infected and shady government forces threaten to take her to a Q-Zone, Nico has to save her. I suppose neither cares about potentially spreading the virus by breaking quarantine.
“Songbird” is a graceless, sensationalized projection of current real-world events. Some viewers may find that it cheapens and exploits the present, disheartening coronavirus pandemic. The narrative’s overly sanctimonious, thin gloss delivers no weight, and the action elements are bland and straight out of the Bay handbook (there’s even a patented 360-shot at a critical moment).
Like the forced production that had to keep the crew and performers appropriately distanced, this is a film that never draws you into the plight of people trying to escape an oppressive regime. It’s hard to respect Nico and Sara’s efforts to run away when considering the possibility of an irresponsible virus spread.
In building the post-pandemic world, writers Adam Mason and Simon Boyes mine the young adult formula. And the dystopian elements abound. The promising opening title sequence sets the stage, introducing us to a world held hostage by a slippery and deadly virus. But from that point, the rules of the environment get murky.
Nico’s boss, Lester (Craig Robinson), runs his activities from a computer. They communicate using several mobile devices, including the product-placed LG Wing smartphone. A billboard for the phone appears prominently in one scene.
Deliveries are made to rich people who orchestrate nefarious activities from their sealed off compounds. One such couple is Piper and William Griffin (played by Demi Moore and Bradley Whitford). They have a young daughter named Emma (Lia McHugh).
Periodically, Piper and William make deals for other wealthy people to leave the city. Ingress and egress are regulated using a series of armbands. And virus testing is as simple as holding a smartphone up and being scanned. Naturally, all this high and low tech can be circumvented, which begs many, many questions. I won’t bore you with diving down that rabbit hole, but it’s enough to pull the viewer out of the movie, especially as the action increases and plausibility is jettisoned.
There’s a potentially exciting subplot involving a social influencer named May (Alexandra Daddario) and her relationship with a disabled veteran named Dozer (Paul Walter Hauser). Surprisingly, there’s more romantic chemistry between Daddario and Hauser than between Apa and Carson. And Hauser gives the film’s best performance from a wheelchair. If only the script had been brave enough to make his character the lead, then this film might have been something special.
“Songbird” is a hurried experiment that fails to capture the pressing tension of the moment. It uses current events, pressing them into an overly familiar plot offering little insight into what might happen if the virus doesn’t magically disappear.
A RottenTomatoes.com Tomatometer-approved critic, Jonathan W. Hickman is also an entertainment lawyer, college professor, novelist, and filmmaker. He’s a member of the Atlanta Film Critics Circle, The Southeastern Film Critics Association, and the Georgia Film Critics Association. For more information about Jonathan visit: FilmProductionLaw.com or DailyFIlmFix.com