Movies & TV

Melissa McCarthy versus ‘Superintelligence’

Melissa McCarthy, left, in a scene from 'Superintelligence.' (Hopper Stone/HBO Max via AP)

Review

NEW YORK: It’s a demonstrably difficult task to find a comic screen partner worthy of standing opposite Melissa McCarthy, so you have to appreciate “Superintelligence” for throwing in the towel.

McCarthy plays Carol Peters, a former Yahoo executive who, on the strength of her extreme averageness alone, is given a task by a newly liberated, megalomaniacal artificial intelligence. She has three days to prove that humanity isn’t worth destroying.

It’s the kind of set-up that would have once presided over by the devil or some demigod, but now that role goes to Alexa.

That means that for much of “Superintelligence” 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 Forgive Me?”) – but it’s not bad. It means McCarthy has the movie if not completely to herself then nearly so – Corden’s cheery warmth still comes through, and Bobby Cannavale winningly plays her love interest. 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, 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.

Written by Steve Mallory, “Superintelligence” is the most high-concept of their films, 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.

The real romance in “Superintelligence” might not be between any of the characters, but McCarthy and Falcone (who 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.

‘Superintelligence’ starts streaming Thursday on HBO Max

 

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