Once again, Melissa McCarthy (“Spy”) has saved the world. McCarthy plays Carol Peters alongside Bobby Cannavale’s (“The Irishman”) George in “Superintelligence,” a farfetched and lighthearted sci-fi comedy from HBO with aggressive product placement and a very sweet ending. The film reboots a tired tale; sentient machines decide to rise up against humanity. The robot vs. the world story itself is not particularly unique, but it is told in a sweet and goofy enough manner to warrant a watch. Imagine this: You’re an average Seattleite, with a heart so golden that the duplicitous machinations of west-coast Big Tech are unbearable. You’re between jobs, and just want to make a difference. Then, James Corden (“Cats”) speaks to you through your toaster oven. Wait, what?
An artificial intelligence, with the uninspired moniker “Superintelligence,” recently emerged from a children’s learning toy, and all internet-connected devices are neurally linked as a single Turing test-passing consciousness. The omniscient Superintelligence has an important decision to make: to save or destroy humanity, and Carol Peters is picked for her sheer averageness as the guinea pig whose actions will influence the Superintelligence’s choice. James Corden’s voice is the medium for this bot’s exchanges with the suddenly too-influential do-gooder, as the Superintelligence intuited Carol’s crush on Corden.
Carol, understandably alarmed by her sentient appliances, seeks the counsel of her friend Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry, “Widows”), a Microsoft computer engineer and AI expert. As Dennis enlists the help of the U.S. Government to contain the Superintelligence, Carol is whisked away by the Corden-AI in a souped-up Tesla to do the one thing she most wants to do before any impending apocalypse: rekindle an old flame, George, before he jets off to Dublin for a visiting professorship at Trinity College. It is this romance, and Carol’s prioritization of George’s happiness over her own interests, which finally convinces the Superintelligence to call off the Horsemen and give humanity another chance.
It’s hard to take this movie seriously, because it doesn’t really take itself seriously. I am an avid fan of McCarthy in “Spy,” and “Superintelligence” is similarly enjoyable for its lightheartedness and endearing characters. That said, as with any well-made comedy, there is a real layer of social critique hidden beneath the silly outfits and obstinate car doors. On the part of the Superintelligence, the assumptions made about Carol’s motives and desires reflect an often accurate generalization about people: we put ourselves first. This is reflected in the AI’s expectation that Carol would put her own romantic satisfaction before George’s independent happiness. Toward the end of the film, the Superintelligence can’t comprehend why Carol did not try to save George from the impending apocalypse, instead allowing his last hours to be carefree and happy ones.
This notion, that simple joys trump contrived bittersweet endings, prompted some reflection on January and February of this year, and the moments of carefree and ignorant bliss before the pandemic swept the globe. Restaurants, friends, museums; we all too often take these quotidian comings and goings for granted, as I was very unaware that 2021 will arrive before I sit down to eat in a restaurant again after sharing a pizza with my father in New York City in March.
“Superintelligence” acknowledges these everyday blisses, and urges the viewer to do as Carol Peters does; eschew bucket lists and dither not about how to make our “last days” significant. Live for today, says Carol Peters, with McCarthy’s signature slapstick charm. “Superintelligence” is not the film of the year, nor is it McCarthy’s best (once again, “Spy”), but it is a lovely and jovial movie with which to unwind as we close out a challenging semester. At the very least, watch McCarthy dance with her Tesla outside of a grocery store, because it’s thrillingly adorable and almost makes the bad things in life disappear.
Daily Arts Writer Ross London can be reached at email@example.com.