The Internship — in which Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn play a pair of floundering fortysomethings pinning their last hopes on a job at Google — settles for leisurely LOLs over a litany of ROTFLMFAOs.
It’s an apt reflection of Wilson and Vaughn’s trajectories since they last paired in 2005’s juggernaut hit Wedding Crashers. Both comedians’ centers are now as soft as their middles, in that (at best) their stuff is well-intended, well-meaning and, well, just OK.
In almost every moment when The Internship tries matching Crashers beat for beat, Wilson and Vaughn feel like the front men for a band that’s lost several steps. And in place of that film’s wacky, well-wrought supporting characters are just-above-average stereotypical sidekicks.
Vaughn and co-writer Jared Stern also goad their PG-13 parameters in ridiculous ways, with from-nowhere references to hentai (Google it, cautiously), ejaculation and septuagenarian sex. There are also momentarily dissonant, mean-spirited fat or handicapped jokes, which feel like feral strays from last summer’s leaden The Watch (starring Vaughn, co-written by Stern). Plus, director Shawn Levy applies boasts a bizarrely amateurish Raunch-o-Vision smear on a strip-club sojourn.
Like Crashers, it’s also entirely too long. And despite the chance to hear Rose Byrne’s lovely natural accent, her love story with Wilson only serves to interrupt the leads’ always-inspired brotherly chemistry.
At its core, though, The Internship works because it’s T-shirt-and-jeans comedy — loose-fit comfort and casual, with a timeworn plot faded into its fabric like a decade-old salsa stain. (It opens on a joke about Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic,” for crying out loud.) Of course, all of this comes across as high style to those who endured Couples Retreat, You, Me and Dupree, Hall Pass or many other execrable outfits into which these two have squeezed since Crashers.
And although it’s never as bizarrely bittersweet as The Break-Up (or Vaughn’s unfairly maligned The Dilemma), The Internship brings the occasional stinging truth to its observations — about the U.S. job market’s reality check for all ages, the banality of workplaces where “impact” has been bastardized into a verb, and some millennials who mistake arrogant, arch indifference to everything as affected cool.
It’s also not a slobbering, shilling lapdog for Google — a knives-out opinion some critics latched onto without even seeing the movie. Although clearly set (and, in some cases, filmed) on the company’s California campus, the tech giant seems to have gotten out of the filmmakers’ way. Besides very visible iPhones and iPads, many in the internship program are depicted as elitist, entitled jerks or irrepressible hard-cases.
In Nick and Billy’s snobs-versus-snobs clash, The Internship embeds reliable, if not groundbreaking, ’80s-movie code from Back to School and Real Genius (complete with its own nod to Lazlo, the bookish recluse from Genius). It’s a loosey-goosey groove into which the story settles after a crass, contrived prologue.
Nick (Wilson) and Billy (Vaughn) are watch salesmen who, rather incredulously, learn their company, and their livelihood, has gone under from one of their clients. “No one uses watches anymore,” their boss (John Goodman) argues. “They check their phones.” (That a watch always trumps a phone to scan surreptitiously during an interminable meeting or uncomfortable conversation occurs to no one.)
As lame as the setup is, it leads Nick and Billy to believable desperation: With their age and track record, how realistic is reinvention? That’s what prompts Billy to double-down on their long-shot admission into Google’s internship program — a competitive gauntlet of tech-savvy tasks from which only a chosen few will emerge with full-time, high-paying jobs.
Naturally, these are challenges for which Nick and Billy are woefully underprepared, and both assume their snappy patter will help them skate past the skills they lack.
A “free association” effort on “debugging” leads Vaughn gently down a stream of consciousness to spout “Fly,” “Goldblum” and “J. Lo.” This tried-and-true titan of comically conversational exhaustion also has an osmotic effect on Wilson here — who’s not his usually laidback, laconic wingman but an oddly, prodigiously motivational motormouth himself.
Levy’s camera wisely sizes Nick and Billy to tower among twentysomething rivals in Mountain View, and the movie plays their weathered looks for self-effacing laughs. Culturally, they’re also “Start”-button guys in a tiled-window world of Skrillex, Harry Potter and Malcolm-Gladwell-by-way-of-Macklemore references. The best Billy offers as rejoinders are Stalag 17 and Flashdance quips, and his reaction to a real-life Golden Snitch in a Quidditch game is amusingly dumbfounded.
To Vaughn and Stern’s screenwriting credit, they create such an overwhelmingly stacked deck against Nick and Billy that you actually start to wonder just how their lights will click on for a triumphant third act. Of course they do, but at least The Internship doesn’t introduce some sort of sabotage ex machina; it simply makes Nick, Billy and their team of misfits pay greater attention to the rules, and learn from the mistake of how one missed detail can derail an otherwise outstanding effort.
In this harmlessly middlebrow movie, that’s an astute on-the-job observation to which Vaughn and Wilson’s mostly middle-class audience can relate. They’ve tried tethering their talent to a workforce comedy for awhile; The Internship sure feels like Plan B after Outsourced, about a pair of downsized friends venturing to Mexico to get their jobs back, fell apart in development.
While it’s more of a trifle they’ve aged into than a true passion project, The Internship — more or less, and for better or worse — feels right enough for this duo at this stage of their careers.