Superintelligence is an example of a movie that squanders its own potential. Melissa McCarthy plays Carol Peters, a Seattle woman who left a lucrative job behind in order to pursue philanthropic goals. She awakens one morning to discover that an artificial intelligence has achieved sentience. Speaking to her in the tones of James Corden, it takes over all her electronic devices, saying that it wants to learn about human behavior. Carol will be the focus of its investigation, whether she likes it or not.
The movie gets off on the wrong foot here. James Corden is not an inherently funny choice to play the AI. He's too bland for the gag to work properly. David Letterman would have been an amazing choice. Or maybe someone not even associated with comedy, like Christopher Walken. This is the first of many instances where the potential for hilarity is watered down.
What does the AI want Carol to do? Make things right with her ex-boyfriend George (Bobby Cannavale), for whom she still pines. Out of all the possibilities offered by the premise, Superintelligence goes the softest route possible, attempting to be a romantic comedy. Why, with this concept, did writer Steve Mallory think it would be compelling to go down a formulaic Will they or won't they get back together? road?
Complications exist, of course. George is about to move to Ireland for a dream job. Also, the government gets wind of what's going on and wants Carol to help them contain the AI, with the aid of her Microsoft employee friend Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry). Even with these obstacles, having the AI study Carol through her philanthropy would be way more original what what the movie goes with. The romantic angle plays out in a thoroughly formulaic manner.
Superintelligence was directed by McCarthy's husband, Ben Falcone. It's their fourth collaboration, following Tammy, The Boss, and Life of the Party. Compare these comedies to the four she's made with director Paul Feig (Bridesmaids, The Heat, Spy, and Ghostbusters). Feig has a way of helping the actress shape her patented brand of physical comedy so that it benefits the whole story. Falcone, on the other hand, often tries to create a showcase for her alone. That approach yields less-than-impressive results, since she's squarely in the middle, with all the other characters feeling like they exist solely to set up her big moments.
The bit with Corden is a perfect example. The joke needs to be the humorously tense relationship Carol develops with the AI as it takes control over her life. Instead, the joke is that Carol is infatuated with James Corden, and therefore somewhat bemused by the whole situation. There's a subtle difference there, one that would have made a huge impact. My point here is not to criticize Falcone or imply he shouldn't direct his wife. It's merely to suggest that every great comic actor thrives best with a director who will push them in new ways onscreen. Will Ferrell shined with Adam McKay, Steve Martin with Carl Reiner, Bill Murray with Ivan Reitman, and so on.
To be fair, there are intermittent laughs in the picture, and McCarthy shares a few scenes of sweetness with Cannavale. It's fitting that Superintelligence is available on HBO Max, where subscribers can watch it as part of their subscription. You'd be disappointed paying full ticket price at a theater, but if you have HBO Max and are in the mood for a light, unassuming rom-com, it fits the bill. We know what McCarthy is capable of, though. With a better script and more focused direction, she could have made this story a riot.
Superintelligence is safe and predictable when it should be cutting and hilarious.
out of four
Superintelligence is rated PG for some suggestive material, language and thematic elements. The running time is 1 hour and 46 minutes.