January 16, 2021

DCTRS

Damascus Center for Theoretical and Civil Rights Studies

Review: Melissa McCarthy’s ‘Superintelligence’ is little more than average

The ongoing collaboration between the husband-and-wife team of Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy continues to yield mixed results with “Superintelligence.” The fourth film directed by Falcone and starring McCarthy, the movie is first and foremost a spotlight for McCarthy’s genuine gift for blending broad comedy with emotional sincerity, but to limited ends.

The story is rooted in the very real anxiety that machines may be becoming too smart, obscuring essential human connection as the line between convenience and dubious surveillance blurs in an age of video doorbells and voice-activated virtual assistants. In the film, written by frequent McCarthy/Falcone collaborator Steve Mallory, McCarthy plays Carol Peters, a Seattle woman who left behind a tech-world executive job in hopes of making a more positive difference in the world.

While Carol is at something of a personal and professional impasse, a newly sentient self-declared superintelligence takes over the devices in her life and wants to use her to observe and learn more about humanity while ultimately deciding whether to save or destroy us. The AI presents itself to her with the voice of entertainer James Corden, something she finds reassuring, and then concocts a way for her to reconnect with an old flame (Bobby Cannavale), who is about to move to Ireland for work.

Brian 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. Falcone appears alongside Sam Richardson, both playing government agents.

Brian Tyree Henry and Melissa McCarthy in “Superintelligence.”

(Hopper Stone / HBO Max)

With her background in improv, McCarthy has a pure inventiveness onscreen; 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 movie. In another moment, Carol struggles to find the exit from an office complex, which McCarthy transforms into something both absurd and relatable.

The highlight of the movie by far is the relaxed, easy chemistry between McCarthy and Cannavale. The two of them go out for an agreed-upon nondate “business casual” evening that quickly becomes most definitely a date, and it is the stuff of rom-com delight.

It’s easy to wish that the movie had simply been about the two of them, setting aside the high-concept gimmick of an artificial intelligence making pronouncements about modern life. Perhaps inadvertently proving the point of the story, sometimes the regular human stuff can be enough. Relatively late in the film, the action pauses so that McCarthy can help Cannavale pack up his house before he moves; there is something so warm and genuine in the moment that it becomes the low-key emotional climax of the story, just two people enjoying their connection without demanding anything more from it.

“Superintelligence” shifted from being a theatrical release to premiering on the HBO Max platform well before the pandemic diverted to streaming many movies that might have been going to theaters. And just as the character of Carol Peters is notable for being such an average, unassuming person, in many ways the movie fits the model of so many movies in the emerging streaming era — innocuously passable diversions.

‘Superintelligence’

Rated: PG, for some suggestive material, language and thematic elements

Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes

Playing: Available Nov. 26 on HBO Max