If nothing else, Superintelligence, the latest from Tammy and Life of the Party director Ben Falcone, reminds us that when you’re writing a screenplay, you can’t just have a concept; you need to have an actual narrative. Superintelligence wastes the talents of its leading lady Melissa McCarthy and her surprisingly endearing chemistry with Bobby Cannavale because it rushes in with exactly zero plan of what it wants to do. The carcass of its Big Idea (a self-aware AI attempting to decide whether to save humanity or scrub it and start fresh) limps along over a runtime that feels excruciatingly long and only ever offers the weakest and most obvious message about the hidden charms of mankind.
McCarthy stars as Carol Peters, a seemingly floundering woman after leaving her high-powered job in favor of something that would allow her to do actual good. But it’s hard for an individual to make sweeping systemic change all on their own, and no matter how many times she pitches corporate philanthropy to soulless tech companies, little gets done. However, her life changes when a superintelligent computer gains consciousness and chooses her as a stand-in for humanity that it can study to determine whether to aid or eradicate the human race.
By the way, this AI is voiced by James Corden, an affectation it chose purposefully to give it an endearingly human quality, which is just one of Superintelligence’s many errors in judgment. It overestimates his charm, just as it overestimates our willingness to buy in on a film that never bothered to develop itself beyond a one-sentence logline. Corden’s voice work is fine, but the smug way his grating persona is integrated into the film in multiple different ways grows old fast. It might have been wiser to use Corden’s voice without linking it to the real-life Corden: the AI’s insistence that its cadence is soothing would become a tongue-in-cheek nod to how many people find it incredibly annoying.
But the biggest problem with Superintelligence is that once it introduces its main concept, it goes absolutely nowhere. We spend at least 45 minutes watching Melissa McCarthy get a makeover, complete with physical comedy that she does her best to sell but can’t escape feeling like a tired schtick at this point, then try to reconcile with her professor ex-boyfriend George (Cannavale). What does any of this have to do with the increasingly apocalyptic matter at hand? And why on earth is this random computer so obnoxiously invested in her love life?
It’s a shame that it makes no sense and doesn’t fit at all because the subplot between Carol and George is one of Superintelligence’s most redeeming features. Their relationship is sweet, funny, and down-to-earth, with a surprising amount of charm. And if this were a different film, one perhaps about a woman and her quirky, newly sentient AI sidekick on an offbeat adventure to recapture lost love, all of this might work. But they’re committed to the concept of an AI as a menacing existential threat, which makes any romantic shenanigans feel ill-timed.
Superintelligence constantly struggles with this core problem. It feels as though it wants to be fun and goofy, but because it’s written itself into a corner with this whole doomsday scenario, it’s honor-bound to include bits with the NSA and global power elite trying to stop the AI. Honestly, it’s so meandering and pointless that it seems like even the writers were getting bored: they want it to stop as much as we do.
Oh, and one more thing: Superintelligence’s makers owe Brian Tyree Henry a huge apology. It’s a genuine Hollywood crime to have an actor of his caliber and use him so utterly poorly. His scenes with McCarthy are sweet, and they have a nice best friend dynamic. But the comedy bits as he meets the president and just can’t stop gushing (or, for that matter, making jokes about things made in China being cheap in front of the Chinese ambassador) are completely cringeworthy, and they drag on for an absurdly long period of time.
Overall, Superintelligence doesn’t have much to recommend it. McCarthy deserves much better vehicles for her talent than this half-baked, scattered mess that gives up on itself almost as quickly as the audience does. There are a lot of people in the biz right now trying to make Corden a movie star, but if this is the type of content we have to go on, it sounds as thankless and ultimately unsustainable a venture as a supercomputer trying to save humanity from itself.