Synopsis: In 2024 a pandemic ravages the world and its cities. Centering on a handful of people as they navigate the obstacles currently hindering society: disease, martial law, quarantine, and vigilantes.
Stars: KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Bradley Whitford, Demi Moore, Alexandra Daddario, Paul Walter Hauser, Craig Robinson, Peter Stormare
Director: Adam Mason
Running Length: 90 minutes
TMMM Score: (3/10)
Review: I’ve boo-hoo-ed enough on here about how much I miss the experience of going to the theaters and cherishing that feeling of sitting in a darkened movie house with a packed crowd waiting for something exciting to happen. What I don’t think I’ve spoken of is the flip side to that, the exasperation of dragging yourself out of the house after a long day of work (yes, some of us have to keep that day job), battling traffic and often out of the way theaters, and then getting a turkey of a film for your efforts. That’s likely why so many critics get such a bee in their bonnet over not that bad films…it’s just because they were annoyed they left their house for a middle of the road piffle that was neither here nor there.
That’s why it’s been nice to not have to leave the house while watching a stinker, you literally can roll over and go to sleep if you want when it’s over; or, in the case of the dreary Sometimes Always Never, wake up first, brush your teeth, and then go to bed. So should you happen to get the urge to commit some electronic funds to the el dweeb-o new Michael Bay produced pandemic thriller Songbird upon its release, you won’t be kicking yourself for wasting precious gas money for the round trip out to the theater.
The first movie to shoot in L.A. since the onslaught of COVID-19 shut down most Hollywood films, Songbird is an odd duck of a film that never can quite decide what it wants to be. Shot in 19 days over the summer of 2020 and coming under early scrutiny for kinda-maybe-probably not adhering to all the health protocols put in place while filming, writer/director Adam Mason aims for a sort of ensemble feel but winds up with no one story or character that’s interesting enough to invest in. Even worse, timely as it may be, there’s something just a tad ugly about releasing a film via Paid Video on Demand about the continued deaths attributed to COVID-23 right as many are in lockdown and facing a dark winter ahead.
In 2024, over 100 million people have died from the spread of COVID-23 which continues to mutate and is airborne. Half of all people who contract it will die but there are a rare few that have proven to be immune to the virus, bearers of a coveted yellow bracelet that goes for big bucks on the black market. These people can roam free outdoors, though there’s not much out there to be living for. Instead, the majority of the population exist behind glass walls and UV cleansing spaces where they receive items from the outside and take their temperature daily through an app and pray it doesn’t detect a virus. Should they fail their test, armed guards come to take them and everyone in their house to quarantine zone (Q-Zone) from which no one returns.
Mason introduces a wealth of characters in quick order, keeping his eye on the 85-minute run time that is swiftly ticking away. There’s bike messenger Nico (KJ Apa) who works for Lester (Craig Robinson, Dolittle) making deliveries to wealthy families like the Griffins (Demi Moore, About Last Night and Bradley Whitford, Saving Mr. Banks). The Griffins make their money selling those yellow immune bracelets to high-paying friends and are in business with the shady head of the Sanitation Department (Peter Stormare, Clown) who doubles as the one that comes to cart people away to the Q-Zones. Paul Walter Hauser (Richard Jewell) plays a wheelchair bound vet and associate of Lester’s who takes time in between flying his drone to follow aspiring singer May (Alexandra Daddario, We Summon the Darkness) on social media. May, meanwhile, has a connection to one of the above-mentioned individuals that’s a bit of a spoiler so I’ll keep that one secret to myself.
That’s enough plot for most two hour films but Mason isn’t quite done – we’re not even into the main plotline yet. Nico loves Sara (Sofia Carson) who he’s never met but talks to from behind her apartment door where she lives with her grandmother. With their plans on starting a new life together if/when a cure is found, the Romeo + Juliet parallels are hard to miss, but it’s too bad that Apa and Carson don’t have a chemistry that could keep some sort of fire burning between the two. When Sara’s safety is threatened, Nico has to find a way to get her out of the city before she winds up in a Q-Zone of no return…and to do that he’ll have to use his connections and resources in a short amount of time. Ditching his bike for a motorcycle (what is this, Premium Rush?), Nico races around a danger zone of a city to avoid being caught by double-crossing government agents and making it back to Sara before she’s gone forever.
It almost feels at times that Songbird was made long before Hollywood was shut down and the filmmakers went back in post-production to overlay the words COVID in place of whatever random disease name was previously there. Despite being sold as a pandemic thriller, there’s very little in the way of actual thrills on display and once you realize this is all going to be about finding a way for Nico and Sara to be together the interest just empties from the film in a flash. At first, I was pulled in a bit at Mason and co-writer Simon Boyes set-up and though I shudder at the thought of our current lock-down extending, gulp, another four years the film presented at least a visually impressive view of a Los Angeles ravaged by a mass exodus. The longer it plays, the more I grew bored with it because the characters are so bland and there are just so dang many of them.
Leads Apa and Carson are charming enough holding solo scenes to themselves but not totally ready to carry their own film yet, even forgettable fare like this. You can see Apa possibly developing into a decent boyfriend character for a popular star down the road but not this type of nervy action hero…it’s not for him. Carson was the better of the two on the whole, though Mason doesn’t know quite what to do with her; once she’s put in peril she becomes that sad standard female that needs saving. I quite liked Moore as a ballsy take-charge mama bear protecting her immune-compromised daughter but when she ditches subtlety toward the end the character gets away from her. Hauser and Daddario have worthlessly thankless parts and they know it, the less said about their awkward conversations about war, the better. At this point, I’m not ever sure how to classify what Stormare is doing…it’s so kooky and weird that I guess in some way it works almost by accident, but this is a well he’s returned to so many times that he’s just repeating old hat characters now and collecting a paycheck.
Blessedly skipping a run in theaters and heading straight to streaming, I’m not sure how many people unable to visit their favorite local small business or go to a restaurant are going to want to watch a film about an endless plague with no hope in sight. No time would really be right for this but is the second week of December really the best choice they could come up with? Watch, it will snow real soon and you’ll be tempted to watch Songbird (by the way, the title makes no sense whatsoever. What. So. Ever.) when it’s bleak and horrible out. And you’ll feel worse after. Don’t take the bait. This tune is foul.