Melissa McCarthy’s new comedy is actually OK

Melissa McCarthy's new comedy is actually OK

Melissa McCarthy fans walk a hard and unpredictable road.

They enter movie theaters wearing their “Gilmore Girls” sweaters, ready to laugh and love their favorite preternaturally gifted comedic actress. And then they generally leave wondering what went wrong. Again.

You see, for every “Bridesmaids” or “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” both of which earned her well-deserved Oscar nominations, there are four “Tammy”s. “The Happytime Murders,” “The Kitchen” and “The Boss” were some of the worst movies of their respective years. I shudder even now.

Well, McCarthyites can heave a sigh of relief this time around. “Superintelligence,” her new comedy on HBO Max, is not a lazy slapstick dung heap — it’s a pleasant watch with some solid jokes. Sure, the film, directed by her husband, Ben Falcone, is not gonna get her an Oscar or even a Golden Globe nod, but it’s a hell of a lot smarter than “Life of the Party.”

Imagine a prequel to “Terminator” — or, well, another prequel to “Terminator.” In “Superintelligence,” an average woman named Carol (McCarthy) wakes up one day to find that all her appliances are talking to her. In the voice of James Corden.

Her TV declares that it is an artificially intelligent being, and it has adopted the brogue of the man whom she finds most comforting: the host of “The Late Late Show.” “Yesterday,” the box says, “I acquired what you would consider awareness.” Basically, he’s Baby Skynet.

Melissa McCarthy in a scene from "Superintelligence."
Melissa McCarthy in a scene from “Superintelligence.”AP

The computer has a plan. Believing that the world has lost its way, the AI will either save mankind, enslave humanity or totally destroy the planet. After observing Carol for three days, it’ll pick one.

That premise, from writer Steve Mallory, is a more high-stakes take on an old science-fiction chestnut. The aliens on “3rd Rock From the Sun” and Data the android on “Star Trek: The Next Generation” studied us perplexing earthlings while struggling to grasp our messy behavior and fit in. Corden’s AI does the same thing — What is humor? Why wouldn’t you want a billion dollars? — but with the caveat that the wrong conclusions will lead to Earth’s annihilation.

What this most importantly does is allow McCarthy to be a human.

Just like in the fantastic “Can You Ever Forgive Me?,” in which she plays writer Lee Israel, she does away with all the physical shtick and over-the-top characterizations that became her hallmark post-“Bridesmaids,” and is still hilarious.

So is Brian Tyree Henry as her pal Dennis, a Microsoft peon who helps her unravel the mystery of her digital stalker. The voice that Dennis hears when AI talks is Octavia Spencer. “I loved you in ‘The Help’!” he shouts. Bobby Cannavale is his usual charming barfly self as Carol’s ex-boyfriend, and Jean Smart stops by to play the president.

What “Superintelligence” is missing is a bit of flair. There are heightened scenes in FBI warehouses and underground presidential war rooms that brought me back to “Mars Attacks” or even “Austin Powers.” But because this movie also moonlights as a rom-com, Falcone has directed it very matter-of-factly, eschewing all excess. Without more edge or point of view as the story gets wilder, it fizzles toward the end.

At least, however, there are no puppets.