Synopsis – When an all-powerful Superintelligence chooses to study average Carol Peters, the fate of the world hangs in the balance. As the A.I. decides to enslave, save or destroy humanity, it’s up to Carol to prove that people are worth saving.
My Take – With surveillance culture continuing to be a hot topic in debates over the past two to three decades, Hollywood has managed to churn out action franchises (most famously like the Terminator) over the basic concept of artificial intelligence posing a genuine threat to humanity’s very existence. However, this HBO Max release, while maintaining that gist of that theory, sidesteps any sense form of urgency, in favor of a romantic comedy, that is lightweight and undemanding and yet unfortunately yields mixed results.
Unsurprising, as the film which marks the fourth comedy collaboration between Melissa McCarthy and her director husband Ben Falcone, who previously churned out middling performers like Tammy (2014), The Boss (2016), and Life of the Party (2018), is neither provocative enough to excite science fiction geeks, nor funny enough to draw in rom-com fans.
Sure it is improvement in comparison, as some of the funny business is very funny indeed, and the film overall is engaging, mainly due to McCarthy’s genuine gift for blending broad comedy with emotional sincerity, but overall it just meets limited ends.
The story follows Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy), a former tech executive who wakes up one morning to find that her TV, her coffeemaker and just about every other electronic of her apartment is talking to her in the voice of her favorite celebrity, James Corden. Informing her that he is actually a superintelligence embodying his voice and has chosen her, mainly as she’s so average, to evaluate the current state of humanity in order to determine whether to destroy, enslave or help in the betterment.
To help in its evaluation, she is given three days to repair her biggest regret – her relationship with her ex, George (Bobby Cannavale), with whom she broke up to pursue her humanitarian higher calling. While she agrees to do as the A.I. pleases, she also informs her friend, Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry), a high level tech working in Microsoft about the singularity, who gets in touch with NSA to help him execute a plan to to defeat the potentially malicious A.I. while it helps Carol stage a meet-cute and a date with George.
Admittedly, the theme of our reliance on intelligent technology is intriguing, but the pending end of the world has so rarely felt like a non-event. Despite possessing a high-concept story, here, writer Steve Mallory, makes the absolute least of its core idea. It had the potential to be absurd, over-the-top or even profound, but saddles itself with scenes of McCarthy and Cannavale being charming together, which might have been a welcome change if it wasn’t so very much beside the point.
Unfortunately, the couple’s relationship isn’t never really developed as we never get into specifics of what was the initial attraction, why did it fade, and why should it rekindle itself now. Instead, the film just rushes from one wish-fulfillment set piece to another, as the artificial intelligence arbitrarily decides to give Carol a multi-million dollar bank account, her own charitable foundation, a penthouse loft, a super-deluxe sports car, and a designer wardrobe in order to get comfortable and make a pointless point.
Sure, there are some half-decent gags. In particular, it’s pretty funny how the A.I. talks in James Corden‘s voice in order to put Carol at ease, and it briefly adopts Octavia Spencer‘s voice when speaking to Dennis. But there’s not much humor present in the scenes where Carol is dazzled at getting all these fancy things.
Too many of the jokes rely on either the image of McCarthy being knocked down or others implying that Carol is too ordinary to be involved at all. In order for the film to be truly hilarious, it actually required to deal with its own themes, rather than simply using them as a springboard for a cute romance and family-friendly jokes. However, the film improves significantly in its final passage, when it finally loses a bit of its cloying cuteness to dips its toe into darkness, but that itself doesn’t last for long.
Performance wise, Melissa McCarthy is, as always, winning. She has a casual, half-embarrassed comic delivery that makes even scripted lines sound improvised, and a sweet appeal. She’s often at her best making something out of nothing, turning something inconsequential into something unexpected. An extended bit of business of her struggling to sit in an oversized beanbag chair may be the funniest thing in the film. Thankfully, the film doesn’t settle for cheap and insulting laughs by portraying its star as clumsy or unlovable. Bobby Cannavale makes the most of his presence, and shares an easy chemistry with McCarthy.
While Bryan Tyree Henry brings a playful, lighthearted charm to his role as Carol’s best friend, a computer scientist, stealing every scene he’s in, such as when he repeatedly loses his composure around the president of the United States, played by Jean Smart, who is likable as always. Ben Falcone and Sam Richardson are alright in their smaller roles. James Corden’s mostly unseen performance requires him to play his cheeky self, and he does remarkably. On the whole, ‘Superintelligence’ is another forgettable McCarthy-Falcone comedy which takes a decent concept and renders it mushy and toothless.
Directed – Ben Falcone
Rated – PG
Run Time – 106 minutes