COVID-19’s unimaginable ramifications continue to infest our society, with news in the US and UK getting considerably worse by the day. A rising number of unemployment cases, deaths, and evictions damage our population with heartbreaking results. Considering these circumstances, the Michael Bay-produced COVID thriller Songbird comes at a rather complicated time. Instead of making a vital statement, writer/director Adam Mason vaguely utilizes our dire straights as a cheap pastiche for his lazily-conceived thriller.
Set in 2024, Songbird follows an alternate future where COVID ravages the world at large (unless you are one of the lucky immune cases, most people are forced to spend their days inside). The film centers on an ensemble of people trying to navigate circumstances. There’s a hopeless romantic (K.J. Apa) working to set his girlfriend (Sofia Carlson) free, a rich family operating an illegal side hustle (Demi Moore and Bradley Whitford), a talented singer (Alexandria Daddario) who connects with a disenfranchised veteran (Paul Walter Hauser), and a corrupt government official who operates with a reckless abandon (Peter Stormare).
For a narrative that introduces several subplots, Mason’s script does little to engage. The ensemble approach works when it’s constructed with thought and care, as thrillers like Contagion utilized their wide-spanning narrative to reflect on various perspectives. Songbird blatant disconnect from reality offers nothing to say about our world’s current condtions.
Mason implements B-movie trappings into his web of narrative threads, dizzily dancing between subplots without developing much in the process. The characters register as hollow stereotypes due to the inconsistent plotting, leaving the capable cast of actors largely out to dry (Craig Robinson is the only highlight as a communications boss). It doesn’t help that the script packs a multitude of bewildering screw-ups, often breaking the world’s internal logic with humorous results (the virus is apparently airborne, but characters constantly have their windows open).
Does Songbird at least work as a campy thriller? Not really. Mason may be working under the tutelage of Michael Bay, but his effort lacks the bombastic visual verve of Bay’s work. You can critique Bay all you (Transformers 2 through 5 range from bad to flat out terrible), but the controversial director creates vibrant sequences out of the dopiest of cliches. Mason’s visual identity implements some of Bay’s shaky movements, though it’s present without the director’s wildman framing and creativity. The noticeable budgetary restrictions don’t help Mason’s case either, restricting the world-building from developing past dystopian contrivances.
Without much to say, Songbird’s existence feels rather repugnant. I can’t blame the cast for grabbing a paycheck during challenging times, yet Bay and company should know better than this. Similar to his mawkish historical epic Pearl Harbor, Songbird cheaply connects itself to our COVID-infested reality, lazily selling itself through cheap pop culture verbiage (a news reporter thanklessly says “talk about social distancing!”). The exploitation of a year-long of suffering is simply impossible to enjoy.
Aided by its hilariously poor timing, Songbird ranks as one of the year’s most joyless experiences. I implore audiences to steer away from this film, as its empty attempts to monetize on COVID are distasteful, to say the least.