I laughed a total of 11 times over the course of Superintelligence‘s 106 minutes. The first of those laughs came at the 12-minute mark, and over half of them were basically just scoffs. For a film billed as an action/romance/comedy, this is what is called Not Good. I kept this tally running not as an act of OCD but something akin to scratching hash marks in a prison wall to indicate how many days have gone by.
The premise revolves around Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy), a remarkably average person who has been chosen by a sentient artificial intelligence (voiced by James Corden) to represent humanity. The AI wants to spend three days observing Carol in an attempt to understand how humans work. Depending on how that time goes, it will decide if it wants to help, enslave, or destroy the human race. And the AI thinks the best way to see how humans work is to get Carol back together with her ex-boyfriend George (Bobby Cannavale).
The concept behind the film in and of itself isn’t awful. It has potential, and it could go in several directions. But in the hands of writer Steve Mallory and director Ben Falcone, it’s little more than wasted opportunity. Well, wait. That’s not entirely true. It’s also a flailing, incoherent mess riddled with plot holes and a tedious waste of time that only becomes notable for what it fails to do.
There’s an odd 1980s vibe hanging over the film. In many ways, it feels like something that would have come out around 1985, a high-concept, mid-budget comedy whose ambition is seriously farther than its grasp. The soundtrack is mostly made up of 1940s and 50s standards and jazz, something a director who was an adult in 1985 would have listened to as a kid. It’s approach to the concept of AI comes off as all theory and wild speculation on something that would have been in its infancy in 1985.
It’s this last part that really trips the film up in major ways. There is no internal logic or rules regarding how the AI works. It’s essentially treated as magic or a wish-granting genie. The AI can control anything anywhere that’s even remotely mechanical and can access any computer system anywhere at any time. It’s treated as omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient except when it isn’t, and any inconsistency hand-waved during the final act with a combination of “I meant to do that” and “That was my plan all along.”
That part of the film is irritating and even infuriating, but at least it provokes a response. That’s more than can be said for the rest of it, a long string of overlong, unfunny gags that embody some of the most unappealing aspects of physical and cringe comedy. There’s nothing witty or clever here, just a pile-up of awkwardness, stale pop culture references, and half-baked improv. None of it is helped by Falcone’s apparent inability to edit, resulting in bad jokes that are beaten to a bloody, whimpering pulp before being put out of their misery.
Falcone doesn’t seem to know what do with the premise, either. There’s no thesis statement, even when the script drops themes with all the grace and subtlety of an anvil in a Looney Tunes short. The idea that the AI would weigh the destruction of humanity against the success of one romance is absurdity played for serious drama. And almost nothing in the film feels structured or consistent. It’s as if scenes from multiple drafts of the script were filmed independent of each other and then smashed together like the product of a mad science experiment.
The film also wastes most of its cast, most notably its lead Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy is genuinely talented comedic actress, but not when her husband is the one directing her. She’s still charming and appealing, but she also doesn’t seem to be able to transcend the limits of the material. She’s the winner of this week’s At Least You Tried Award. Much of the same could be said for Bobby Cannavale, again effortlessly likeable but done dirty by the script. If the film has anything going for it, it’s the easy chemistry between McCarthy and Cannavale, and their relationship feels very organic and believable even if their characters each barely have a personality.
Almost none of that last paragraph applies to James Corden’s performance, however. It’s as perfunctory and dry as you’d expect. There’s a weird layer of metatexutalness in it, as it’s not just James Corden doing a voice. The AI is specifically mimicking the voice of Corden because Carol is a fan, and it thinks using his voice will make her more agreeable. (The AI also mimics Octavia Spencer and KITT from Knight Rider at one point for the same reason.) Corden’s voice work is entirely mercenary and mostly without color or nuance, only a slight step up from the generic male voice the AI is introduced with.
In general, there’s little reason for this movie to exist and even less reason to watch it. The film was completed nearly two years ago, with a release date that was constantly pushed back until its streaming debut was announced just weeks in advance. It is in some ways a perfect streaming movie, though, as it requires almost no concentration to understand or follow. I was able to work out at home during the first two acts and even paused the film halfway to give my cat a pill without losing any momentum. And truth be told, that was more exciting than anything on screen.
FBOTU Score: 3 out of 10 / D
Superintelligence can be streamed exclusively from HBO Max, but seriously…why would you want to?