Synopsis: When an all-powerful Superintelligence chooses to study the most average person on Earth, the fate of the world hangs in the balance.
Stars: Melissa McCarthy, James Corden, Bobby Cannavale, Brian Tyree Henry, Jean Smart, Michael Beach, Karan Soni
Director: Ben Falcone
Running Length: 106 minutes
TMMM Score: (6.5/10)
Review: On a late-night last week it was getting close to one in the morning and the internet went out at my home and you’d think the stone age had started anew. Nothing worked. I couldn’t watch TV, I couldn’t access the internet and instead of, y’know sleeping, I spent about thirty agitated minutes trying to figure out what the problem was because I just couldn’t go on not knowing if I’d once again be hooked up to the net. It’s tiny incidents like this and full-scale freak-outs such as when YouTube or another major website goes down that shows you just how much the public is relying on computers and artificial intelligence as well as how much of our information we put in the hands of non-human entities. I’m not easily sucked into doomsday conspiracies but that’s something to be worried about should anything happen and we lose all of that data in some catastrophic event.
Thankfully, I’m not reviewing some Gerard Butler-esque movie where just such an event occurs but Superintelligence, a genial comedy starring Melissa McCarthy arriving on HBO Max just in time for Thanksgiving. The film, written by Steve Mallory (Life of the Party) and directed by McCarthy’s husband Ben Falcone (Office Christmas Party) who also has a small supporting role, is another theatrical casualty of the pandemic now making its debut on a streaming service. I actually only heard about its existence a few weeks back, it wasn’t even on my radar until the premiere on HBO Max was announced but then again, marketing on films sort of stopped all together back in April. While several titles bypassing a run in cinemas would certainly play better on the big screen, this is one I think might have actually benefitted from this type of modified rollout.
Former corporate bigwig Carol Peters (McCarthy, The Boss) left her high paying job that felt unfulfilling in favor of work with non-profits that she could do some good for. At the start of the film, she seems a bit aimless and unsure of what to do next, a state of affairs that confuses her close friend Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry, If Beale Street Could Talk) and perplexes a former co-worker (Jessica St. Clair, Like a Boss) who offers Carol a job at a brainless dating corporation. Things take a strange turn when Carol wakes to the voice of James Corden (Into the Woods) speaking to her through a variety of different devices within her home and self-identifying as an artificial intelligence who prefers to be referred to as Superintelligence. Controlling not just her electronics but stoplights, ATMs, cars, and ambient sound in restaurants, Superintelligence has chosen Carol as a case study because it has deemed her the most average person in the world.
From its short scope, Superintelligence has seen the destruction the world has caused and thinks there is no hope for humanity and wants Carol to prove it wrong. Speaking in the voice of James Corden (and occasionally appearing as him in TV monitors) is meant as a way to come across as non-threatening and the AI even hilariously changes to a voice of an Oscar-winning actress for Dennis when Carol lets him in on her newfound follower. It has given Carol three days to prove things aren’t as bad as they seem before it saves, enslaves, or destroys the world so for the next three days we ride along with Carol and Superintelligence as they give Carol a make-over and try to get her back-together with her ex-boyfriend (Bobby Cannavale, Annie) that she rather mysteriously broke up with. They’ll also continue to avoid federal agents authorized by the President (Jean Smart, A Simple Favor, looking quite Hilary Clinton-y) to quarantine this virus.
About as good-natured as any McCarthy film has been, this is a welcome PG addition to her list of titles on IMDb and one that is likely fine for family viewing. There’s no real villain in the piece and the stakes are never high enough to ramp up any palpable tension or suspense. While that may leave Mallory’s script a little on the shallow side, it does give Falcone and McCarthy room to breathe and find their sweet spot to be, well, sweeter than normal. There’s far less of the tendency to make McCarthy’s character the physical manifestation of a crude punchline by tossing her down a flight of stairs or some other painful-looking fall we’re supposed to laugh at. The one bit of physical comedy we do see is used to good effect, showing the husband and wife team are learning less is more.
One still wishes for a bit of surprise at some point in the movie. There were moments throughout the final act where I kept waiting for some twist or readjustment of the narrative that would alter where we thought we were headed but, alas, Mallory’s script is just a straight line from start to stop without any creative detours. I guess that’s what allows McCarthy to shine the brightest (and she’s wonderful here, looking great and at her most relaxed) while at the same time piecing together her relationship with Cannavale who I liked but often feels like he’s attempting to match McCarthy’s goofy charm and comes off just goofy. He works better when he’s simply sincere…anything more than that and it feels staged. You’d think a movie on this scale with this type of talent would have something in the way of a ending to match such a high concept so the curious lack of that full bodied feeling of storytelling is noticeable.
This is the fourth film McCarthy and Falcone have worked on together and it’s their most effortless to date. Considering where they started, the rancid Tammy, and then looking at Superintelligence it feels like a totally different duo. Though overlong in my book, this is light entertainment that is easily watched and enjoyed with little to be gained in the process. Sometimes, that’s totally OK. It would pair nicely after your Thanksgiving meal when you’re full and need to rest in the glow of family togetherness.