The first thing you should know about the new film Superintelligence is that it’s being distributed by the WarnerMedia empire. Second, you should know that WarnerMedia does not have ownership in The Late Late Show with James Corden, though the very existence of Superintelligence would seem to imply otherwise. Ostensibly, this comedy is about an average citizen being thrown into a situation where only she can save humanity from a mysterious artificial intelligence. But Superintelligence is weirdly committed to convincing its audience that James Corden is so great and likable and funny, an argument that gets harder to believe as the film goes on.
Melissa McCarthy stars as Carol Peters, a former tech executive who wakes up one morning to find that her TV and coffeemaker and just about every other electronic part of her apartment is talking to her in the voice of her favorite celebrity, James Corden. Soon enough, Carol realizes that it’s not actually Corden, but a superintelligence embodying his voice and monitoring the woman’s life in the hopes of getting a better sense of the current state of humanity. It all seems innocuous enough until Carol realizes the superintelligence is really deciding whether or not to save or destroy humanity.
With Superintelligence, McCarthy is starring in her fourth film directed by her husband, Ben Falcone. Tammy, The Boss, and Life of the Party all were odd blends of crass, mostly unfunny comedy and moments of honest emotion; they’re unsuccessful films, but films that attempted to be something more than just manic, gross-out comedies. Superintelligence, unlike those three, has just one credited writer, Steve Mallory. (He co-wrote The Boss along with McCarthy and Falcone.) It’s also a more straightforward comedy until a misguided and goopy third act, with the unfortunate caveat that it is rarely funny. It doesn’t help matters that McCarthy is mostly playing the straight man to Corden’s mostly unseen performance. (Though he’s primarily voicing the superintelligence, we do see Corden as himself, or some version of himself, sporadically.)
So to this film’s detriment, Superintelligence becomes a referendum on James Corden. Yes, he’s a talk-show host, but he’s appeared in plenty of films, shows, and stage performances over the last decade. (That’s not just a reminder worth including in this review. That’s the crux of an actual conversation characters have in this movie about Corden’s career.) Fans of Carpool Karaoke or One Man, Two Guv’nors (the show for which Corden won a Tony, which gets a direct reference here, because why not) may yet rejoice at a film all about the TV personality. The Brit gets the “and” credit among the cast, but he’s easily a co-lead to McCarthy. Yet those who find Corden’s shtick exhausting and more than moderately obnoxious will find Superintelligence…well, exhausting and moderately obnoxious.
Melissa McCarthy can be talented and charming and quite funny. It’s worth stating this even as we move further and further away from her last all-around hilarious comedy (the 2015 film Spy), and her last genuinely great performance (in Can You Ever Forgive Me?). Parts of Superintelligence are decent, specifically those where Carol reconnects with her ex (Bobby Cannavale). The script gets out of the actors’ way, and lets them bounce off each other for extended periods. And then Corden – and the very tired plot – return with a vengeance.
A good comedy is all about honing the right kind of energy to propel the humor forward. Spy and McCarthy’s breakout, Bridesmaids, have the right energy. Superintelligence is imbalanced from top to bottom. Carol is a poorly defined character, with a background in the tech world that’s treated as window dressing so she can appear ordinary enough for an AI to see her as a human guinea pig for his potentially destructive experiment. Of course, that speaks to the larger issue with a comedy whose premise involves a hero with just three days to avert the destruction of humanity: this is not, on its face, a terribly funny premise.
That grim setup is masked throughout the first hour as the superintelligence essentially woos Carol by gifting her a very sleek Tesla, a penthouse apartment, millions of dollars, and more material gifts. But there’s not much humor present in the scenes where Carol is dazzled at getting all these fancy things. Too many of the jokes rely on either the image of McCarthy being knocked down (the kind of joke with a short shelf life to start) or others implying that Carol is too ordinary to be involved at all.
Superintelligence, like a large chunk of the studio releases in 2020, was supposed to be released in theaters. Instead, it’s now bypassing theaters entirely and winding up on HBO Max this holiday weekend. You might as well just stream Bridesmaids, though – it’s also on HBO Max right now, and remains a high watermark in the effective balance of comedy and drama. Superintelligence tries its best to do both, but in trying so hard, it fails to be either funny or dramatic. Melissa McCarthy can be funny. She has been before. But in the quartet of films directed by Falcone, her track record is nearly nonexistent. Of course, McCarthy has new projects in the pipeline. For example, she’s starring in an upcoming Netflix comedy…directed by Ben Falcone.
Maybe the fifth time will be the charm.
/Film Rating: 4 out of 10
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