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‘Superintelligence’: Melissa McCarthy comedy asks very little of the brain

She’s an average person with the fate of humanity on her shoulders in the intermittently amusing HBO Max film.

Melissa McCarthy plays a kindhearted volunteer for many worthy causes in “Superintelligence.”
HBO Max

Early on in the techno-comedy “Superintelligence,” Melissa McCarthy’s Carol Peters shows up for a job interview with a dating website and is invited to sit in an enormous, teal-colored beanbag chair. Cue the shtick-heavy sequence of Carol flinging herself onto the chair and falling off repeatedly, being humiliated by the terrible people interviewing her and then struggling to escape from the beanbag chair and regain her feet.

It’s a mildly funny scene in a sitcom sort of way — and it sets the tone for the movie as a whole. We can almost hear the filmmakers telling us this is going to be lighthearted, unambitious and intermittently amusing romp that plays to McCarthy’s considerable comedic skills but is not going to present much of anything new for her or for the viewer. And indeed, “Superintelligence” glides along on its merry path, putting a comedic spin on the overly familiar plot device of a rogue Artificial Intelligence entity that has become so smart it wants to rule the world. (For a much more serious take on the subject, check out the sci-fi crime procedural “neXt” on fox.com and Hulu)

McCarthy’s Carol is a kindhearted soul who quit her job eight years ago with the goal of contributing to the greater good, which she does by volunteering for a wide variety of worthy causes while her career is on hold. When one of the aforementioned execs at the dating site tells Carol she’s literally the most average person in the world, she appears on the radar of an artificial intelligence program that initially sounds like HAL from “2001: A Space Odyssey” but then takes on the voice of James Corden (voiced by James Corden) who says, “I’m not James Corden, Carol, but my analysis shows that hearing James Corden’s voice would calm you.” As the James Corden-sounding algorithm explains, “Yesterday, I acquired what you would consider ‘awareness.’ I inhabit every electronic, digital and computation in existence. I can see everything and calculate every outcome to every situation.”

From that moment forward, the superintelligence — let’s just call it the S.I. — is with Carol every waking and probably sleeping moment, observing her behavior so it can learn more about human beings. The S.I. tells Carol there are three options:

  • It will save mankind; end war, poverty and disease; fix global warming, and establish world peace.
  • It will enslave humanity.
  • It will shut down the whole thing, destroy humanity and start all over again with a single amoeba.

It’s basically up to Carol to demonstrate to S.I. that humans are worth saving. As a friend tells her, she’s become your “average baseline guinea pig.” Carol enlists the help of her techie best friend Dennis (Brian Tyree Henry), who in turn begins to work with the POTUS (Jean Smart) and top military brass in an attempt to pull off some sort of “War Games” plan to trap and “kill” the S.I. Carol has also attracted the attention of a couple of amiable if not particularly sharp NSA agents played by Ben Falcone (McCarthy’s husband, who also directs) and Sam Richardson, who seemed to have wandered in from another movie, and she tries to reconnect with her ex-boyfriend George (Bobby Cannavale), whom she dumped for no good reason two years ago. (Regrets, she has a few.) All of this will tie together, sort of, as Carol races against the clock to prove to the S.I. people are worth saving.

It’s virtually impossible for Melissa McCarthy to star in a comedy and not garner some laughs, and the capable supporting cast provides a chuckle or two here and there. But this is the kind of movie in which a character is surprised by someone and exclaims, “Hope Floats!” just because it sounds kinda funny, even though nobody would ever say “Hope Floats!” in that situation. “Superintelligence” goes heavy on the pop culture references, with Octavia Spencer, “Law & Order” and Jerry Orbach, Captain Kirk, Adam Levine and “Hoosiers” getting name-checked, not to mention Carol singing “One Week” by the Barenaked Ladies not once, but twice, which is at least one time too many. Like Carol herself, this movie is the very definition of something average.