Review by Sean Boelman
While a Michael Bay-produced thriller set during the pandemic sounds like a bad idea on paper, and a poor-quality trailer did it no favors, Songbird actually provides a solid bit of unexpected escapism. A mostly entertaining (if entirely conventional) romantic thriller, this is the type of popcorn flick that would soon be forgotten if not for its supposedly controversial context.
The film is set in 2024 as the COVID virus has mutated and society under lockdown has devolved into an authoritarian state, following a young delivery boy who tries to rescue his lover from the grips of the corrupt Department of Sanitation. And even though the premise may sound like hyper-paranoid conservative conspiracy theory, the joke is really on the people who break the rules.
Writers Adam Mason and Simon Boyes seem to be approaching the movie as they would an ensemble drama, and it’s pretty clear that a more straightforward, action-oriented approach would have been more effective. Although the main story is a bit too simple to work on its own, there isn’t enough time to fully develop a web of subplots.
All of the moving parts do eventually come together, and surprisingly cohesively, but there are a lot of parts that feel empty. There is a disabled character who was already isolated from the world before quarantine, and the film barely explores that angle. And the movie introduces some interesting ideas about industries that will be fundamentally changed in the aftermath of the pandemic, but never explores them.
Instead, the film is more or less a story of how love conquers all. And while it’s likely that no one would go into this expecting a measured and in-depth exploration of the impact that COVID has had and will have on society, it’s also unlikely that anyone would go in anticipating something so meaningless and inoffensive.
That said, the ensemble that Mason was able to assemble for the movie is definitely very impressive (perhaps because it was one of the first films shot during quarantine and these actors weren’t doing anything else). Turns from Paul Walter Hauser, Craig Robinson, Bradley Whitford, and Demi Moore are all fine, even if their roles are too small to be particularly impactful. Peter Stormare steals the show, though, as the enjoyably over-the-top villain.
The movie is also surprisingly strong on a technical level. Given the obvious limitations the filmmakers faced and the fact that there are no more than two or three actors on screen at any given time, it’s actually much more cinematic than one would imagine. And even though there isn’t a ton of action, it’s pretty exciting when it’s there.
If it weren’t such a prime example of opportunism, Songbird probably would have come and gone. It’s a fun but not particularly memorable action movie, and for ninety minutes worth of entertainment, it’s not a bad choice.
Songbird hits VOD on December 11.