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Songbird (2020) Review

“Songbird”, arriving on the small screens with undue haste which, in turn, deserves its absence from the shuttered cinemas it mocks, is so blandly mediocre it would barely merit comment at all were it not for the insidious irresponsibility which underpins this tawdry Michael Bay production.

By the year 2024, the COVID-19 virus has mutated into COVID-23 and the world is in its fourth pandemic year. Daily infection checks are mandatory and those who register as infected are taken from their homes by force and placed into quarantine camps. The housebound population interact through video calls and is served by a network of couriers one of whom, Nico (K J Apa) is one of the few who are immune and therefore legally allowed to move freely. Nico is in love with Sara (Sofia Carson), a young artist who lives with her grandmother. But when Sara’s grandmother succumbs to the virus, Nico must risk everything to find a black-market immunity licence before Sara is taken from him forever.

There’s a generic quality to the set-up of “Songbird”, a kind of one-size-fits-all young adult dystopia where you just need to add a couple of ingredients and you’re good to go. Of course, this is a Michael Bay production, so it’s playing to a very particular gallery and in doing so it stumbles through his usual tropes, including a needlessly sexualised subplot involving a streaming singer, a lascivious music producer and everything’s presented in an oversaturated intagram filter style. Despite the thinness of its intertwining disaster-movie-by-numbers, it spends more time giving credence to the idea of government overreach intruding on the liberty of the individual, giving more than tacit succour to the various conspiracy theorists and political opportunists who have used the current, very real pandemic to spread misinformation and sow discord and distrust for their own ends.

The performances are fine, although there’s not much that challenges the likes of Craig Robinson, Peter Stormare, Alexandra Daddario, Demi Moore, Bradley Whitford or Paul Walter Hauser save perhaps the inconvenience of having to film their scenes almost entirely separately. K J Apa is an adequate leading man, but the nature of the adventure is such that there’s no chance for him to prove to be anything more, whereas Sofia Carson is doubly short-changed by a script which requires little of her (unsurprisingly, given Bay’s involvement) but to look pretty.

Where “Songbird” does succeed, though, is in using its brief 80-minute runtime to feel much, much longer. In capturing the experiential tedium of a prolonged Covid lockdown, “Songbird” is a metatextual triumph.