Melissa McCarthy’s light-hearted comedies with husband Ben Falcone are over-the-top shenanigans. Much like their other collaborations Life of the Party, Tammy, or even The Boss, Superintelligence is farcical, and that’s the point. She throws herself into the roles of seemingly average people with gusto and hilarious physical comedy. Like Mike Myers in Austin Powers or Adam Sandler playing twins in Jack and Jill (or any of Sandler's latest Netflix films), McCarthy can make the unbelievable feel real, even if the script is totally unrealistic. She commits wholeheartedly to her new comedy Superintelligence and manages to find some romantic sparks along the way.
Meet Carol Peters (Melissa McCarthy), who left her job eight years ago to find a role that will lead her closer to saving the planet. She has a job interview set up by her tech-genius friend Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry), where the potential employers deem her too ordinary, which seems to capture the attention of technology around her. Afterward, She walks home deflated as CCTV cameras perched on buildings follow her movements. It seems an Artificial Intelligence has become sentient and after witnessing Carol’s interview, determines to follow her for a few days before deciding whether to wipe out humanity. She is, of course, the most average person on Earth, so she is the perfect indication of an ordinary being. The ‘superintelligence’ masks itself in James Corden’s voice because that’s what makes Carol most comfortable, and after a brief hesitation, she decides to help change the AI’s view on humanity.
The superintelligence asks Carol if she has any regrets in life that could prove to him why humankind deserves to exist, and she acknowledges that she regrets breaking up with her ex-boyfriend George (Bobby Cannavale), so the AI tries to help her rekindle the relationship. The trouble is that George is leaving for Dublin in a few days for a year-long fellowship at Trinity College. As they reconnect over dinner in a Mexican restaurant and packing his place into cardboard boxes, the President of the United States (Jean Smart), along with world leaders, devise a plan to lock the superintelligence in a single location and destroy it. But it only wants to communicate with Carol, so she must race against the clock to prove that not only are people worth saving, but not everything in life works out the way you want it to.
Much of the film's success is in the commitment of the talent involved to play into its absurdity. That a James Corden voiced AI could potentially wipe out the globe if the most average person on Earth can’t convince it to not destroy the planet requires a deep suspension of disbelief. But it works because McCarthy convincingly leads the pack. Ben Falcone and Sam Richardson have a great time playing hopeless NSA agents trying to interrogate Carol because Falcone encourages the scenes to play out with some improv. It’s that Judd Apatow type of allowance for the actors that gives the film enough breathing room to be funny outside of the plot. Falcone’s previous films with wife McCarthy often haven’t hit the zeitgeist compared to her starring roles in Paul Feig’s Bridesmaids or Spy, but Superintelligence is the type of film that makes for an easy afternoon viewing.
Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the film is the affecting love story between Carol and George, played with softness and sincerity by both McCarthy and Cannavale. In the middle of the mayhem, both actors ground the film in this relationship that honestly could've been the entire movie. Cannavale is at his most charming, playing George with restraint and giddiness that helps establish the connection with Carol. His excitement is so adorable when the AI surprises Carol by purchasing first-class tickets for George to Dublin, with Cannavale bouncing from excitement. Of course, there is a threat to the world, and when the film resumes with James Corden’s AI, it seems the story by Steve Mallory needs to work twice as hard to convince us there is an immediate threat.
McCarthy is an extraordinary actor. There’s no looking past her wild performance in Spy, her machismo in Bridesmaids, or her terrific, melancholy turn as Lee Israel in Can You Ever Forgive Me?. She can play almost anything thrown her way. Superintelligence adds to her catalog of collaborations with Ben Falcone, and while these films do miss originality in humor and style, they make up for in enthusiastic commitment and heart. McCarthy can take an ordinary woman and humanize her motivations. There is no doubt that she is an actress any director would be lucky to work with, but like Reese Witherspoon and Octavia Spencer, she is also creating her opportunities and making audiences laugh along the way.
Superintelligence is a film that understands the storyline is ridiculous, but the fun is in playing it out. I’ll watch Melissa McCarthy leap in the air to try and sit on an oversized beanbag chair any day.
Now available to stream on HBO Max