SONGBIRD (2020)

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Studio:     STX Films
Director:    Adam Mason
Writer:     Adam Mason, Simon Boyes
Producer:  Michael Bay, Marcei A. Brown, Jason Clark, Jeanette Volturno, Adam Goodman, Andrew Sugerman, Eben Davidson
Stars:     KJ Apa, Sofia Carson, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, Peter Stormare, Elpidia Carrillo, Alexandra Daddario, Lia McHugh, Paul Walter Hauser, Demi Moore

Review Score:

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Summary:

With the world in lockdown due to a deadly virus, an immune courier navigates a black market network to secure safe passage for his girlfriend.


Synopsis:     

Review:

What if Lawrence Kasdan¡¯s ¡°Grand Canyon¡± was remade as a pandemic-themed dramatic thriller? Take that film¡¯s intertwining threads of scalable family struggles, burdened relationships, and class divides that snapshot 1990s Los Angeles. Now thrust everything forward to a 2024 future where a deadly virus has the city under jackbooted martial law while the non-immune majority of the population fearfully hunkers down in their homes.

That probably gives ¡°Songbird¡¯s¡± arcs more credit than they deserve. In reality, ¡°Songbird¡± seems like a bunch of actors and filmmakers, who had bored of staying at home, rushed right at the first project thrown their way simply as something to do while quasi-quarantined. Rethinking that ¡°Grand Canyon¡± analogy, I suppose this actually makes ¡°Songbird¡± something closer to a cinematic cousin of that celebrity cover of John Lennon¡¯s ¡®Imagine.¡¯ I.e. perhaps good intentioned, but not exactly a powerhouse piece of well thought out entertainment.

It¡¯s amusing when a post-apocalyptic scenario sets few limits on an art designer¡¯s imagination, yet the fiction never really justifies the level of decay depicted. In ¡°Songbird¡¯s¡± case for instance, it has been approximately one year since COVID-23 altered how everyone lives their lives. Tell me then, what in the world could have possibly happened that would result in one quarter of the Santa Monica Pier¡¯s famous Ferris wheel being torn apart in its nine-to-midnight section? The visual of a partially collapsed roller coaster may look cool. But did rioters take out their frustrations on amusement park attractions or does the virus somehow expose shoddy construction in under twelve months? It¡¯s coronavirus, not Chernobyl.

It¡¯s also wild to peek at what people do for entertainment in a world where seemingly no new content is created. Everyone in ¡°Songbird¡± apparently listens exclusively to Alexandra Daddario performing acapella cover songs via livestream. In addition to dotting L.A.¡¯s skyline with smoky black plumes coming from who knows what, I guess the pandemic destroyed everyone¡¯s music, movie, and media libraries too.

Despite Daddario¡¯s unexplained popularity, ¡°Songbird¡¯s¡± main protagonist is Nico. Unlike other actors who largely look like they¡¯re on autopilot in their skeletal roles, KJ Apa injects genuine enthusiasm into his performance. Nico is a perpetually oily courier who, even after Apa strips down for a seminude shower so inclined audiences can appreciate his abs, dons the same sweaty clothes to maintain his persistent fresh-from-a-workout appearance. Craig Robinson stays seated as Nico¡¯s boss. He sports a headset and chomps Chinese food while monitoring a multi-screen setup akin to an air traffic controller.

Since we¡¯re covering characters with stereotypical traits, Peter Stormare plays the lead heavy. He¡¯s one of those whackadoo movie villains who sings opera songs and plays solitaire while menacingly dropping inconsequential dialogue in a hero¡¯s direction. He¡¯s also in cahoots with Bradley Whitford and Demi Moore. Together they run a ring where black market bracelets identify rich clients as immune so they can travel freely.

Whitford and Moore struggle with the ethics of their operation due to having a 12-year-old daughter with a compromised immune system. The daughter has a name, although there¡¯s no need to know it. She¡¯s one of ¡°Songbird¡¯s¡± throwaway nobodies included to address specific demographics or aspects of the pandemic without having any integral link to the story. I could cite the ill grandmother or the wounded war vet as other examples of cursorily created people. But I¡¯ll give a special shout out to Booker, a deus ex machina man who shows up for ten seconds to serendipitously save Nico before immediately melting away, much like a viewer¡¯s memories of ¡°Songbird.¡±

Things tie together when Nico has to find a way to save his girlfriend Sara, whom he has never met in person, from being taken away by the ¡®Department of Sanitation.¡¯ Nico has an immunity bracelet. He needs another one for Sara if the two desperate lovebirds are to have any hope of escaping L.A. A flip tagline for ¡°Songbird¡± might ask, how far will one man go to rescue a woman he¡¯s only spoken to over a phone?

In that vein, how much enjoyment are you likely to find in a film where people mostly talk through a door or speak into screens? ¡°Songbird¡± puts together a predictable plot with pat beats like lovers racing toward an embrace, an accomplice in that reunion hoisting his hand with a cheer, a laughable extramarital affair, etc. Having helmed projects like the irredeemable ¡°Pig¡± (review here) and ¡°found footage¡± flick ¡°Hangman¡± (review here), director Adam Mason has always exhibited an off-the-cuff experimental approach to making movies. Seems like the experiment here was to see how quickly they could churn out a boilerplate Hollywood B-movie while using COVID-19 conditions as capital.

As a result of winging it, ¡°Songbird¡± sports some sloppy camerawork that couldn¡¯t care less about the sun blazing directly into the lens. Digital scrubbing of Los Angeles landscapes makes CGI enhancements obvious, as do animated additions like the aforementioned smoke plumes.

¡°Songbird¡± still earns an unenthusiastic 50/100. I can¡¯t drop its score into the red zone because, despite technical eyesores and an emaciated script, it¡¯s not ¡°bad¡± in the way that movies like ¡°The Murder of Nicole Brown Simpson¡± (review here) or ¡°Corona Zombies¡± (review here) are bad. It¡¯s not noteworthy in any meaningful regard either, except as a cultural curiosity dated to 2020. As relative cinematic relics go, future viewers will still have more use for ¡°Grand Canyon¡± than they ever will for ¡°Songbird.¡±

Review Score: 50