'Superintelligence' relies too heavily on its celebrity voiceover gimmick, lacking the comedy required to save an otherwise unmemorable romantic sci-fi collaboration.
- 💻 McCarthy and Cannavale are sweet.
- 💻 A few jokes land.
- 💻 Product placement gone wild.
- 💻 Unmemorable.
- 💻 A comedy without many laughs.
As technology advances and humanity nears its inevitable Skynet fate, movies like Superintelligence ponder if artificial overlords can spare mercy. Well, better movies explore the dangerous angles of uploading unlimited data to programming with only coded understandings of right and wrong. Ben Falcone’s doomsday re-meet-cute happily splashes in a kiddie pool of James Corden gags and introductory computer science methodologies. Steve Mallory’s screenplay intends to elicit goofball laughs and imagine a society that’s worth saving, neither of which are particularly successful. Even as a streaming option you’ll throw on to distract from mundane chores, there’s a case to make that whatever task you’re completing holds more entertainment value.
Melissa McCarthy stars as Carol Peters, an ex-tech businesswoman who’s spent the last few years fruitlessly chasing humanitarian passions for a more fulfilling existence. One day she wakes up and is approached by a rogue A.I. conscience that uses James Corden’s soothing voice for comfort. Carol is informed that in three days, the glowing orb on her television will either answer all of humankind’s worst problems, enslave the world’s population out of compassion, or exterminate Earth altogether. “Not James Corden” intends to study the “most average” mortal specimen, Carol, while she rekindles her failed relationship with past-lover George (Bobby Cannavale). Save her romance, save the world, save herself.
At times, Superintelligence plays like a joint advertisement for Tesla, Microsoft, and James Corden. The product placement is out of bounds, and gags are never thoughtful enough to distract from color-panel logos or Elon Musk’s vehicular babies taking centerstage. Never, ever, in a Melissa McCarthy movie should the comedian be upstaged by a self-driving car, and yet, as the two participate in a parking lot dance-off, this occurs. A testament to the material McCarthy’s presented, if anything. Whether she's enamored by a late-night talk show host’s tone, playing Hollywood dress-up, or other rom-com cliches in a movie about an impending apocalypse that never raises tension (nor is it meant to).
In terms of chemistry between McCarthy and Bobby Cannavale, nothing lacks. Their characters cutely fend off mariachi swarms at Mexican restaurants, admirably indulge George’s Seattle Mariners obsession (surprise cameo), or split grilled cheeses while sipping wine in plastic cups and trading sweet, loving gazes. It’s more their reunion, as Carol waltzes back into George’s life after abruptly walking out of it, only hinted at by the A.I.’s recalling “messy” emails and texts, without any dramatic pause. George reveals that he’s been awarded a year-long fellowship in Ireland where he’ll teach creative writing, a dream gig, and he leaves in three days - exactly when “Digital James Corden” plans to sanitize our home planet. What a coincidence!
Surrounding McCarthy is a host of familiar faces who fit into overplayed molds. Brian Tyree Henry as best friend and Microsoft employee Dennis, who nervously works alongside the government on a containment plan and awkwardly compliments POTUS (played by Jean Smart) too often. Sam Richardson and Ben Falcone co-star as special agents on Carol’s tail, kidnapping her then experiencing embarrassment thanks to their A.I. foe (while Falcone makes jokes that are only remotely funny if you know he’s married to McCarthy). James Corden even appears as himself in sellout digital ads, making fun of products and pep-talking McCarthy to no laughable conclusion. Supporting characters are written thinner than a Word document in one-point font, making it seem like the concept for Superintelligence never hatched further than, “What if James Corden voiced an all-powerful online entity?”
Disappointment is constant as McCarthy’s talents are underutilized, whether that’s a reduction to “jump on gigantic bean bag” gags or a zero-stakes relationship with Cannavale’s garbage-bag-sniffing teddy bear (it’s how he makes supermarket decisions, apparently). Even worse, Superintelligence never feels indebted to any narrative heft, cycling through motions that actors can barely deem important via their performances. What should be a reflective assessment of our species’ continued ability to destroy ourselves (self-destructive habits, aversions to roadblocks, war, etc.) is just this one-off Hallmark card about how being nice will save the world. Eat Dim Sum for breakfast if it makes you happy. Appreciate your friends. Don’t run from good things. Don’t think harder about how monetary designations are human-made while there are plenty of resources to go around should equality be favored over profits. Fin!
From start to finish, Superintelligence lacks - among many things - exactly what’s stated in the tile. I’m not demanding Ben Falcone helm a “smarter” movie by any decree. Instead, consider the above a condemnation of the film’s rudimentary nature that never strives to be more than throwaway visual gags (McCarthy struggling to find an exit door, for example). When trying to recall standout comedic moments, the void in my memory says enough. A Lifetime special without the drama; a few WarGames references to hopefully score nostalgia points; a date-night selection that’s better suited for “Netflix and chill” activities where you’re, um, not paying attention. If there’s one lesson that’s learned? A James Corden voiceover does not alone maketh any movie.
Matt Donato is a Rotten Tomatoes approved film critic who stays up too late typing words for such outlets as What To Watch, Bloody Disgusting, Fangoria, Shudder, Ebert Voices, and countless other publications. He is a member of the Hollywood Critics Association and co-hosts a weekly livestream with Perri Nemiroff called the Merri Hour. You probably shouldn't feed him after midnight, just to be safe.
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