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The Tradition of McCarthy/Falcone Misfires Continues in ‘Superintelligence’

Think ‘WarGames’ meets ‘Electric Dreams’ but not nearly as good as either one.
Melissa McCarthy in Superintelligence
By  · Published on November 30th, 2020

If nothing else, it takes real guts to unironically name your fairly stupid comedy Superintelligence. You’re asking for trouble with a title like that, but while there are moments that work in the latest feature from director Ben Falcone and star Melissa McCarthy, the end result is yet another reminder that the success of their personal love story really doesn’t carry over to their onscreen collaborations.

McCarthy stars as Carol, the most average person in the world and someone who cares about other people far more than she does her own advancement in the game of life. When a newly awakened artificial intelligence catches wind of her existence, it decides to judge humanity based on her and her alone — appearing to her in digitally created form of her favorite celebrity’s (James Corden) voice, the AI tells her its plans for humankind rest on her shoulders. Will it destroy civilization, enslave people, or work to help humanity better itself? It all depends on if Carol can get back together with her ex, George (Bobby Cannavale), apparently, but with Microsoft engineers, the US military, and copious Corden appearances meddling throughout there’s a real argument that maybe humanity should go the way of the dinosaurs.

Falcone and McCarthy have made four feature films together now as director and star, respectively, and while I’ll go to bat for 2014’s Tammy as an unconventional romantic comedy, both The Boss (2016) and Life of the Party (2018) are massive misuses of McCarthy’s comedic genius. Superintelligence, unfortunately, falls in line with those last two as it’s rarely humorous, shoddily written, and pure padding for everyone’s resume. The super smart choice here is to go rewatch McCarthy in the utterly brilliant Spy (2015) instead.

Steve Mallory‘s script is the biggest issue here, and while it’s unclear what blackmail material he’s holding over McCarthy it’s obviously working for him. After tagging along and playing characters like “Party Guy” in Identity Thief (2013) and “Cashier” in Tammy, he graduated to a co-writer on The Boss and co-producer on Life of the Party. He’s listed as the sole writer on Superintelligence, and one can only hope that’s the end of the gravy train as neither his story nor his dialogue generates anything resembling a laugh.

What humor does land here comes courtesy of the various talents roped into starring in the film. McCarthy is first and foremost among them, and she does her best with material existing well beneath her. She earns smiles with some brief bits of physical comedy — her failed attempts at sitting on a large beanbag chair are as close as you’ll get to laughing aloud here — but she can only do so much with the dialogue. Falcone and Sam Richardson are mildly amusing as federal agents hoping to stop the AI from destroying the world, and Brian Tyree Henry avoids embarrassing himself as Carol’s best friend. Cannavale can’t quite claim the same.

But, and I ask this with the utmost respect, who the hell thought that what the world needs now is more James Corden? He appears onscreen a few times, both as himself and as a digital rendition of himself, but in voice form, he’s present throughout the bulk of Superintelligence. The script gives him little in the way of funny beats, and he brings even less on his own merits, but even those who do find him entertaining should be put off by the film essentially being an advertisement for how nice, funny, and beloved he seems to be. And seriously, enough with the Carpool Karaoke. It’s tiring. To be fair, he’s not the only product being sold here as the film also goes out of its way to praise the brains at Microsoft and Tesla for its “really cool car(s).”

The singular good bit to come out of Tesla’s product placement here is a Knight Rider joke complete with voice work by William Daniels as KITT. Well, “joke” is a bit of a reach, but it is a reference — and like every other pop culture reference here its presence is neutered by onscreen explanation. A visual nod to WarGames (1983) is followed by multiple characters saying it’s WarGames, initially humorous use of the iconic Law & Order sound cue is followed by others identifying it as the Law & Order sound cue. Nothing intended as funny is allowed to exist on its own without neon-lit arrows pointing at it to ensure viewer attention.

The actual story unfolding in Superintelligence is the least of its concerns — quite literally, it makes a minimal effort here — but even the initial promise of its premise is left to wither. Meant as something of a comedic riff on Skynet, everything from the AI’s plans to the human response is presented without much thought. It wants to judge people based on Carol’s actions, but it manages her actions every single step of the way. The US government plans a massive, global data shutdown, but everything’s still working up to and including commercial flights. Want a smarter, more entertaining movie about artificial intelligence nudging its way into matters of the human heart? Seek out Her (2013) or Electric Dreams (1984) instead.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.