Melissa McCarthy, a respected two-time Oscar nominee and hysterically funny comic dynamo, has a problem, a longtime allegiance that leads an inarguable talent into inarguably dodgy territory time and time again. His name is Ben Falcone: actor, writer, director and also her husband.
While it was cute enough to see him cameo alongside her in the excellent Paul Feig trifecta of Bridesmaids, The Heat and Spy, it’s rapidly become less cute when he corrals her into making something he’s directing, a reliably uninteresting film-maker who’s mastered the art of crafting almost deliberately unfunny comedies centred around a star who deserves much much better. There were sparse scraps of vaguely amusing physical humour to be found in their first collaboration, Tammy, all of which had disappeared by the time they came together again for The Boss, a film which is a certified masterwork in comparison to their next, the punishingly joyless back-to-school farce Life of the Party, a string of throwaway films that have turned him into something of an albatross around her neck. One might have naively hoped that her breakthrough dramatic work in Can You Ever Forgive Me would have caused a much-needed step back, a re-evaluation of sorts, a move away from the one-note dross he’d been peddling but sadly, she’s doubling, or rather tripling, down with one set for release just in time for Thanksgiving and two more on the way.
So before she plays a superhero in one and Santa Claus’s wife Margie in the other (yes, really), she’s up against a megalomaniacal Alexa in Superintelligence, a film that’s actually not quite as interminable as it sounds and not as bad as the similarly themed Jexi, the faintest praise one can give a movie but praise nonetheless. McCarthy is Carol, an average Joan, who left behind a high-powered career in tech to focus on more philanthropic pursuits, a quest that also tanked her relationship. One day, her uneventful life gets an unlikely upgrade when she’s contacted by a superintelligence, voiced by James Corden (the reason being that Carol is his biggest fan, one of many reasons why it’s hard to ever truly like Carol). She’s been picked to prove whether humanity is worth saving or not and she has just three days to prevent the end of the world.
There’s a clear uptick in ambition here with a lower, family-friendly rating and a wider scope, both with the apocalyptic sci-fi plot and a lurch into a more straight-faced sentimentality, something that’s not usually part of Falcone’s oeuvre. But in an effort to reach a larger audience, there’s a smoothing out of McCarthy’s edges, often best on display in raunchier, less constrained comedies that showcase her ability to improvise and do whatever is needed to get a laugh, vanity be damned. She has a few bigger moments here, such as trying to gracefully land on a bean bag chair, but it’s mostly a rather thanklessly beige role, just ambling along from A to B without much to do in-between. So often with McCarthy, it’s hard to imagine any other actor being able to pull off one of her performances but here it’s hard to imagine any other actor who couldn’t do this in their sleep. There’s something interesting to say about a self-confessed do-gooder’s good deeds taking on a destructive edge, how selflessness can ultimately be selfish but the script, from longtime Falcone collaborator Steve Mallory, avoids anything too knotty, choosing to make Carol a boringly blemish-free everywoman instead.
There’s room here for more comedy than we end up getting but the script is so light on laughs, criminally so, that instead we’re forced to find something else to latch on to, such as Carol’s surprisingly low-key and likable romance with her ex, played by Bobby Cannavale. Their scenes are the most engaging even if their dynamic isn’t sketched thoroughly enough for us to truly invest. The use of Corden is as charmless as he is while elsewhere, Jean Smart and Brian Tyree Henry are wasted as the president and Carol’s BFF respectively, turning up with enthusiasm but given little to play with.
It speaks to the extremely low bar set by Falcone and McCarthy’s previous films together that something as forgettable and unfunny as Superintelligence won’t be filed as a total disaster. Instead, it’s just another regrettable waste of her talent and another reminder that the best marriages can lead to the worst movies.