Superintelligence undermines its innocuous silliness and any potential rom-com aspirations with needlessly complicated stakes and a fixation on its own high concept.
There’s a genuinely charming romantic comedy hiding somewhere within the edges of Superintelligence, the new Melissa McCarthy vehicle directed by her husband, Ben Falcone. Sadly, to find it you have to wade through a litany of labored, unfunny jokes and the stupid high concept that the film is far too concerned with. That plot boils down to this: an evolved artificial intelligence has identified Carol (McCarthy) as an exceptionally average human specimen and plans to observe her in order to decide whether to save, enslave, or destroy all of humanity. The A.I. transfers millions into her bank account, buys her a Tesla, and, of course, gives her a makeover all in order to give her one last shot at love with her ex, George (Bobby Cannavale). If they get back together, the superintelligence will know humanity is worth saving. Or something.
When the superintelligence, which uses James Corden’s voice, finally shuts up for a blessed minute and leaves Carol and George alone, the movie works almost entirely on the strength of Cannavale’s easygoing charm. McCarthy’s work in these scenes doesn’t rise to her excellent work in Can You Ever Forgive Me? (admittedly of a different flavor) or even to her scene partner’s level, but she’s mostly along for the ride, coasting, like the rest of the film, on Cannavale’s relaxed, easy romantic energy. Every scene without Cannavale — and he ill-advisedly doesn’t have that much screen time — could stand to calm down a bit, and then maybe we wouldn’t all be subjected to insufferable three-minute bits about how hard it is to sit in a beanbag chair.
Even worse, the humor’s laboriousness is indicative of Superintelligence’s approach to everything aside from its low-key romance. The science-fiction plot, while never really important, has irritatingly high stakes and threatens to become overcomplicated with each new scene. Carol introduces her friend Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry), who seems to be somewhat important at Microsoft, to the superintelligence, setting in motion a series of events that leads to an international coalition to stop the A.I. from destroying the planet. When the A.I. introduces itself to Dennis, it switches from Corden’s voice to Octavia Spencer’s because Dennis just absolutely loves her work in The Help. It’s especially infuriating to watch Henry, one of the most impressive actors of his generation, praise that self-congratulatory piece of white liberal pap — The Help’s director lives on an actual plantation, by the way — even if the joke were intended as irony rather than just a safe reference to a movie everyone has seen. By the end of the movie, Dennis is in a bunker with the President (Jean Smart) and a bunch of military personnel trying to save the world. Superintelligence was, of course, always going to be ridiculous, but the degree to which it proves exhausting is frustrating; there’s the shape of a gentle rom-com here, but Falcone and crew instead opt to inject Age of Ultron-level stakes, and none of it is very funny.
By the end, there’s little left to chew on beyond some familiar, shallow commentary on the invasiveness of modern technology. It’s base fodder that you’d find in roughly half the television work produced since Black Mirror dropped, but here it’s devoid of any specific insight or humor. Aside from the pleasure of watching Bobby Cannavale shuffle amiably across a living room — not to be undervalued — Superintelligence is only recommendable as a cautionary tale of a woman slowly getting sick of hearing James Corden’s voice.
You can stream Ben Falcone’s Superintelligence on HBO Max beginning on November 26.