Another bland and boring comedy from Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy
The collaboration between Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy (who are also a married couple), has helped shoot the latter into the stratosphere of stardom. It was through Falcone that McCarthy took on the momentum after her breakout in Bridesmaids (2011), to produce more stale yet incredibly lucrative hits such as Tammy (2014) and Identity Thief (2013). While McCarthy has used her stardom to shift into some more artistic and intriguing work (Can You Ever Forgive Me (2018)), Falcone seems to be stuck in the mold of his generic comedies. This is apparent in the newest collaboration between the couple with HBO Max’s Superintelligence (2020).
Superintelligence is the story of a seeming average woman in Seattle named Carol (McCarthy), who is chosen by an all-knowing artificial intelligence (voiced by James Corden) as a test subject in order to decide whether it should destroy or keep humanity. The AI prompts Carol to go after her ex (Bobby Cannavale) in order to see human interaction at its core.
Playing around with the apocalyptic and dangerous scenarios regarding AI has been something that has fascinated and populated our screens and stories from as far back as Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927), as for the “external being observing and learning about humanity,” such artistic explorations go even further back to works of philosophy in ancient Greece. Superintelligence thus is treading on fairly worn-out ground; however, it decides to propose these questions and subjects from the genre-mold of a comedy. The result is not encouraging, however; gone are the more interesting explorations regarding human behavior, and instead Falcone and the script, by frequent collaborator Steve Mallory, doubles down on jokes, running gags, and character caricatures, which are painfully awkward.
It must be said that watching a comedy in one’s living room as opposed to a packed theater really does change the experience and enjoyment of the film. I have no doubt, had I watched Superintelligence with an opening-night crowd, that I would have laughed along more than I did at home. However, taken out of that setting and at home, Superintelligence proves to be a cringey watch. Most of Falcone’s films and their humor have been the same regarding their plotting, characters, and humor, however, his previous films had the benefit that they weren’t doing so with the pretense of an AI takeover. With the simplistic plots of The Boss (2016) or Life of the Party (2018) one can largely turn off their brains along with the creativity of the filmmakers. With Superintelligence the lack of humor made me turn my attention to the gaping plot holes regarding its premise and how the AI would interact with Carol (if the AI is looking for the average person on earth, shouldn’t it choose an Asian man? If the AI is from the internet why can it seem to travel through electricity?). The result is a viewing that only gets more frustrating as the runtime increases.
Falcone has always been able to bring about a talented cast for his films; he himself frequently acts and is a better actor in my opinion than director. In Superintelligence we have the likes of McCarthy and Cannavale, and also Jean Smart, Brian Tyree Henry, and the wonderful character actor Sam Richardson. However, the script and jokes are so stale and poorly constructed that not even such great performers can breathe much life into it. Instead they seem to give very committed and energetic performances that simply look like confused caricatures.
In the end, Superintelligence proves to be a rather devoid and lazy comedy from Falcone and McCarthy. McCarthy has shown herself to be too good for these types of films anymore (although I guess something has got to pay the bills), and Falcone seems to be pigeonholing himself as a filmmaker, making the same bland film over and over again. While HBO Max may be teeming with high-profile cinematic content next year, their current original films aren’t setting up the stage too well.