Superintelligence, the new HBO Max comedy from McCarthy and director/actor husband Ben Falcone, is a perfectly pleasant, instantly forgettable film. That’s probably not what they’re hoping to have plastered on the posters, but it’s true. In fact, this is the most enjoyable role McCarthy has had in some time as she’s leaned in on the dramatic side of late, to tremendous success. The problem with the film, and this is a big one when you’re talking about a comedy full of great comic actors, is that it isn’t very funny, despite a clever sci-fi premise with loads of potential.
McCarthy stars as Carol Peters, a humanist at heart but overall a very average person. In fact, she’s so average that a sentient superintelligence, mostly voiced by James Corden but occasionally Octavia Spencer, chooses her as his “guinea pig”. It’ll watch Carol for three days and then decide to either save, enslave, or destroy all of humanity.
The basic setup is quite a lot of fun. Carol left her tech job behind to focus on more altruistic pursuits, but basically, she has settled into middle-age as the future has left her behind. All of that changes when her life gets a serious update as her electronics begin speaking to her, robotically at first, but then in the voice of James Corden because Carol is something of a superfan. The superintelligence causes a car crash, a minor one, to prove that it’s not screwing around.
Falcone and McCarthy, working from a script by Steve Mallory, are in unfamiliar territory here. This is potentially post-apocalyptic scope, and they are charged with rounding it down to be as palatable and audience-friendly as possible. For the most part it works, mostly by turning this sci-fi concept into an undercover rom-com, with the superintelligence helping to guide Carol in an attempt to win back her ex, George (Bobby Cannavale), before he flies away to Ireland.
McCarthy and Cannavale are a pair you want to root for, and that’s what Superintelligence is relying on. Because the script simply has no laughs in it, all one really has to grasp on to is how much they like the cast. To be fair, that amounts to quite a bit when the supporting cast includes the likes of Brian Tyree Henry, Sam Richardson, Karan Soni, and Jean Smart as the luddite President of the United States. Plus, Corden pops up as versions of himself, recreated to urge Carol along on shopping sprees, date nights, and more. Corden in measures doses, it turns out, is much better than an entire movie with him.
What Superintelligence needs is for someone to input a few lines of humor code. What’s missing is the trademark physical comedy that McCarthy excels in. Other than a silly, one-scene gag on a beanbag chair, McCarthy is given few opportunities to improvise and act out to her maximum ability. She has a skillset that few comedic actors can match, but here she’s just fine
I’m not going to dogpile on the McCarthy/Falcone pairings because they’re just too easy of a target. Something about their collaborations, Superintelligence being their fourth, just do not click and that’s reflected in the diminishing box office returns. That was one reason why Warner Bros. decided to skip theatrical where a hit would’ve been unlikely even under the best of circumstances, much less during pandemic. In the comfort of one’s home on HBO Max it’s at least worthy of having on in the background, a mild distraction from your computer screen.