New from Every Movie Has a Lesson by Don Shanahan: MOVIE REVIEW: Superintelligence

(Image by Hopper Stone for HBO Max)

(Image by Hopper Stone for HBO Max)

SUPERINTELLIGENCE— 4 STARS

About halfway into HBO Max’s Superintelligence from the husband-wife filmmaking couple of Ben Falcone and Melissa McCarthy, a classy Seattle apartment manager named Victor concludes showing McCarthy’s astounded main character the finishing accoutrements of her chic new penthouse. The man has never met Carol Peters, yet from a detailed electronic profile provided to him before her arrival, he was able to amass an extreme level of personalization, right down to the smallest decorative trinkets and stocked pantry items.

LESSON #1: A DIGITAL FOOTPRINT IS DEEPER THAN WE THINK— We’ve reached a modern era where smart technology is en vogue. Every tap and swipe builds the metadata and algorithms of tailor-made consumer experiences. We welcome newfangled products into our homes that remember our tendencies and habits. We love them and marvel at their convenience, but it’s downright scary when you think how much your digital footprint represents you. “Smart” can very quickly become too smart with every checkbox of policies and permissions we allow to mesh our online lives with our corporeal ones. 

The wrinkle isn’t that the apartment manager (played by regular McCarthy collaborator Damon Jones) was able to pull it all off in a matter of hours. It’s the fluidity and ease of such a service being possible. That comes out in how Victor departs to say, “It’s not creepy. It’s fine. It’s the new way of doing things.” How right he is! Not soon after, another guiding character adds, “With enough motivation and money, you can do anything in a couple of hours.” What a telling sequence of dialogue in this comedy about the pitfalls of artificial control leaping from one person to all of society.  

This all began for Carol Peters with a phone call. One morning after striking out at a job interview for a corporate tech strategist position that wasn’t for her, a sentient artificial intelligence contacts this nonprofit specialist out of the blue wanting to learn more about the complexity of the human race. When she dismisses it as some weird sales call, the A.I. gains her undivided attention communicating through every electronic screen or wired device in her home. To put her at ease, this Jiminy Cricket crossed with HAL 9000 of swirling pixels takes on the dulcet voice of James Corden (a willing participant in this fun with words and appearances). Calling itself “Superintelligence,” it has chosen Carol as an ever so plaintive baseline for study.

LESSON #2: THE CHOICES YOU MAKE WHEN GIVEN TIME AND RESOURCES— Superintelligence poses Carol the philosophical question of what she would do if she only had a few days to live. Her answer is to make amends with the one-that-got-away, her ex-boyfriend George (the reliable and bubbly Bobby Cannavale) before he departs for a year-long fellowship to Ireland. With a digital blink equal to the genie in I Dream of Jeannie, Superintelligence charges up Carol’s bank account for a lifestyle makeover (which leads to a self-driving Tesla and that awesome apartment discussed earlier) and pulls endless internet strings to make that reunion with George happen.

All of this self-improvement though is a massive test. Superintelligence really meant it with the deadline of three days. Through its constant awareness pulling Carol’s strings with George, it will gauge this observed experience to determine one of three outcomes: 1) solve the world’s crippling problems, 2) enslave humanity, or 3) wipe out humanity to start over. The government response, in the form of a female President of the United States (Jean Smart), her surrounding brass (Michael Beach and Rachel Ticotin), one of Carol’s techy work friends (Brian Tyree Henry), and a pair of tailing government agents (Veep’s Sam Richardson and Falcone himself), works to contain the global threat.

LESSON #3: HAPPINESS IS EARNED MORE THAN ACQUIRED— While happiness is back on track for Carol, she cannot help feel that she didn’t earn this betterment and fortune. True to her needs vs. wants heart, she’s a do-gooder humanitarian and meek to a fault. She represents the simplicity of ordinary over the perceived complexity of glamour. Carol, unwaveringly, sees the real flesh-and-blood connections of happiness, love, and friendship that no computer can create.

Inspired by her husband in the director’s chair, Superintelligence is pleasantly quieter territory for the all-too-often boisterous and over-the-top McCarthy. Her stardom is so easy to love in the right doses. The scenes of her reignited courtship with Cannavale’s beau are as wholesomely quaint as any romance you’ll find this year. It’s really lovely stuff.

For a present day, pandemic aside for a moment, steeped in Lesson #1, this flick counts as a ripe premise of social commentary on how much our data-laced lives have stretched out of comfortable control. Superintelligence chooses a sunnier route than say 1995’s ahead-of-its-time Sandra Bullock vehicle The Net. Yet, even in brevity instead of suspense, writer Steve Mallory (The Boss) sews intriguing topicality that is a dance more than a chase. The cynics will likely find much of this movie’s brightness preachy or on the nose, and that’s their loss.

As dippy as all of this in Superintelligence may sound and transpire, there are undeniable streaks of kindness bigger than terabytes. Not all that far removed from the likes of George Bailey or Walter Mitty, the imagination to root for hope and love in people with laughs along the way feels good. Such a sincere sweetness cannot be discounted or denied. Once again, simplicity earns that kind of vibe. Welcome that to your viewing coach this season. We could use it this year.

LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#922)

LOGO DESIGNED BY MEENTS ILLUSTRATED (#922)

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