From boisterous supporting roles (Bridesmaids and This is 40) to movie stardom, Melissa McCarthy has earned every bit of her impressive career arc. Like Adam Sandler and Will Ferrell before her, McCarthy has established herself as a marquee comedic voice for her era, taking center stage for several box office breakouts over the past decade (Spy and The Heat). Also similar to those two funnymen, McCarthy’s comedic tenure has been somewhat of a critical mixed bag, often following up triumphant laugh fests with notable misfires (Tammy and The Boss).
Her latest project Superintelligence (which is opting for an HBO Max release) relies upon a tech zeitgeist set-up for its numerous pratfalls. While admittedly pleasant, this straight-forward comedy mostly finds itself stuck on autopilot.
Superintelligence follows Carol Peters (McCarthy), a seemingly average woman whose thrust into a life-changing role when a mysterious superintelligence program arrives on Earth (voiced by James Corden). Based on Carol, the A.I. will decide if humanity is worth saving or not, leaving it to Carol’s good-hearted nature to prevent the end of the world.
McCarthy’s latest re-teams her with writer, director, and husband Ben Falcone, who has shockingly been centerstage for most of her weakest efforts. That losing streak sadly continues here. Falcone’s talents as a comedic character actor have not transitioned to behind-the scenes-work, relying upon sterile stylistic choices to meet the bare minimum for a visceral lens. The routine “studio comedy” look is particularly frustrating given the premise’s high-concept qualities, as Falcone treats the myriad of tech gags with a level of visual disinterest.
Frankly, Superintelligence rarely does much with its promising set-up. Similar to last year’s tech dud Jexi, the plot never utilizes its AI elements to ruminate on our complex relationship with technology. While I expect some simplifying from a studio comedy, the script mostly leaves its tech elements in the dust in favor of broad gags. Steve Mallory’s effort views his subject through a superficial gaze, basing most of its pratfalls on tech-inept characters outright clumsiness. Add in a heaping of flat pop culture gags (from Law and Order to War Games, Mallory vomits a bizarre mixture of references) and a simplistic parable about expressing yourself, there’s little about this screenplay that feels creatively-drawn.
Like a lot of McCarthy misfires, Superintelligence frustrates due to its innate promise. McCarthy continues to be affably dedicated to every role she inhabits, while Brian Tyree Henry and Bobby Cannavale add a bright comedic sparkle in their supporting roles. Heck, McCarthy and Cannavale even make for a charismatic rom-com pairing that would be well-served in better material. It’s just a shame that this trio is straddled with murky mediocrity, as Superintelligence rarely finds itself outside of contrived studio formula.
McCarthy’s next streaming project Thunder Force finds her re-teaming with Falcone in a superhero comedy. As a McCarthy fan, I hope that project utilizes its high-concept premise with more ingenuity than Superintelligence. It’s an unremarkable dud, one that will pass through streaming eyes with mere indifference.