The state of studio comedies of recent years has been aggressively dicey, all the way to point that its almost put into stone that trouble is coming for you from the get-go. And Superintelligence only further cements that grim future; delivering a rather lifeless, gasping comedy that centers on an average human being tasked with convincing a sentient AI program not to wipe out humanity. Luckily, for all of us, the film Superintelligence isn’t entered as evidence as to why our continued existence is justified.
Melissa McCarthy stars as Carol Peters, a used-to-be big shot at Yahoo before she decided there was more to life than making money; now she spends her time tending to recuse dogs and lecturing her old friend Dennis (an overqualified Brian Tyree Henry) into finding her a new job, even though Dennis works in the tech business and the only thing we know about Carol is that she wanted out of the tech business. And even for that matter, it’s also extremely hard to believe that Carol was ever in the tech business. She uses a landline and generally seems baffled by even the simplest piece of technology. It feels like they were trying to paint her as out-of-touch, but overshot it and ended up just making her a luddite. But it’s early on that the aforementioned character contradictions continue, as Carol interviews for an executive job for a dating site called “Badunkadunk.com” (jokes!). It’s never a good sign when the lead character of a comedy is contradictory mess by the end of the opening credits, but Superintelligence stops the bleeding by just not developing Carol any further after that.
Instead, Steve Mallory’s script decides to make Carol “the most average person in the world,” a combination of words that prompts a sentient superintelligence to perk up and become obsessed with her. This rogue AI — never given a name or much of anything else — has decided that it will study the most representative human alive for three days and then decide whether or not her species is worth preserving. From there, the superintelligence follows Carol home and starts talking to her, the most basic woman on Earth, in the voice of her favorite celebrity: James Corden. If that’s meant to be a backhanded compliment, the movie doesn’t seem to be aware of it. And if that’s meant to be funny, the movie should probably have set that up beforehand, because that it just how very basic how humor works. Oh, and before you ask: Yes, the film builds to a “Carpool Karaoke” joke, and no, there isn’t any logical explanation for how the AI eventually hijacks Corden’s image in addition to his voice so it can torment Carol on TV screens and the jumbotron at a Mariners game.
And that’s what most of this movie is: The superintelligence exerting chaotic control on Carol’s world as she freaks out and it takes notes. Sometimes it opts for anarchy, such as the bit where it causes a car crash outside her apartment to prove its power. Other times, this AI offers wish fulfillment, as it reroutes millions to Carol’s bank account and buys her a Tesla. If only the AI produced any range of laughs, as McCarthy has reunited with her husband, director Ben Falcone, for yet another dud in their shared filmography. The superintelligence eventually becomes intrigued by the way that Carol pines for her easygoing ex (Bobby Cannavale) and schemes to get them back together despite the fact that they have the romantic chemistry of a garden rake and a computer monitor. Hijinx ensues from there, and — in a refreshing pushback against convention — the superintelligence doesn’t remain a secret. Instead, the government gets wind of the threat, and President Jean Smart takes to her Washington D.C. war room. Henry’s Dennis is also there for some reason, and, as we’re reminded ad nauseum, he has mighty big crush on the president. There’s something genuinely painful about watching two actors this talented beat the same tired bit into the ground for so long, but Falcone seems convinced that the ninth time might be the charm.
Even though Falcone radiates a gentle kindness on-screen, as his bit part here as government agent alongside Sam Richardson provides some of the film’s least restrictive moments, it seems that he’s slowly steering his wife into following into the steps of Adam Sandler, forcing her to break her career into two distinct categories: Streaming-service fodder that allows her to work with her friends, and more challenging work like Can You Ever Forgive Me?. And that’s her prerogative — everyone’s gotta make a living. But there’s something a bit odd about she and Falcone using the content-indifferent streaming pipeline to ship off a comedy about the dark side of digital convenience and the distancing effect of screens that have come between us. Superintelligence doesn’t satirize the problem, it is the problem. The only way to outsmart the system is to watch something else. Feeling as of its made not by even a committee but more an algorithm, Superintelligence falls so continually and aggressively flat that it feels as if its titular AI has more life.
Superintelligence is available to stream on HBO Max