Humanity, hilarity hang in the balance in Melissa McCarthy's so-so 'Superintelligence'

  • Old love interests George (Bobby Cannavale) and Carol (Melissa McCarthy) reconnect in "Superintelligence."

    Old love interests George (Bobby Cannavale) and Carol (Melissa McCarthy) reconnect in "Superintelligence." Courtesy of HBO Max

  • Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy) has to prove that humanity is worth saving in "Superintelligence."

    Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy) has to prove that humanity is worth saving in "Superintelligence." Courtesy of HBO Max

 
 
Updated 11/27/2020 8:40 AM

"Superintelligence" - ★ ★

It's a demonstrably difficult task to find a comic screen partner worthy of standing opposite Plainfield native Melissa McCarthy, so you have to appreciate "Superintelligence" for throwing in the towel.

 

In it, McCarthy plays Carol Peters, a former Yahoo executive who's chosen, purely for her extreme averageness, by a newly liberated, megalomaniacal artificial intelligence that presents her with a three-day test to prove humanity isn't worth destroying. It's the kind of setup that would have once been presided over by the devil or some demigod, but now that role goes to Alexa.

That means that for much of "Superintelligence," a new comedy streaming on HBO Max, McCarthy is walking around on her own, her only foil a disembodied voice (James Corden's) or an occasional talking screen. That's not as good as McCarthy with either of her best recent on-screen partners -- Sandra Bullock ("The Heat"), Richard E. Grant ("Can You Ever Forgive Me?") -- but it's not bad. It means McCarthy has the movie if not completely to herself (Corden's cheery warmth still comes through, and Bobby Cannavale winningly plays her love interest) then nearly so. Even though the innocuous "Superintelligence" is on the bland side, it remains hard not to enjoy two hours with McCarthy.

The more telling companion of McCarthy's in "Superintelligence" is her husband, the director Ben Falcone. This is their fourth film together with Falcone behind the camera, and it may be the best of the bunch. That, however, isn't saying much considering their run of "Life of the Party" (2018), "The Boss" (2016) and "Tammy" (2014). Those films have their moments, and they're always shot-through with affection for their leading lady. But they're easily the weaker, more forgettable side of McCarthy's filmography.

"Superintelligence," written by Steve Mallory, is the most high-concept of their films together, and it's ultimately an excuse to bring apocalyptic stakes to a rom-com plot. Faced with the possible end of the world, Carol resolves to reconnect with an old flame (Cannavale). Their chemistry together is easy and relaxed, if not especially funny. The cast overall feels wasted, especially the supporting performances of Brian Tyree Henry (as a computer scientist), Jean Smart (the president) and Sam Richardson (the talented "Veep" performer who I sincerely hope soon gets his own movie). Like a lot of studio comedies of late, it feels like there's space here for jokes that mostly never quite got filled in.

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The real romance in "Superintelligence" might not be between any of the characters, but McCarthy and Falcone (who also makes his typical cameo). Their collaborations are uneven but warmhearted, and their movies together feel like an almost sweet sacrifice of quality for the sake of family.

• • •

Starring: Melissa McCarthy, James Corden, Bobby Cannavale, Brian Tyree Henry, Jean Smart, Sam Richardson

Directed by: Ben Falcone

Other: A Warner Bros. release. Rated PG for some suggestive material, language and thematic elements. 105 minutes.

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