It’s hard to believe that after 2005’s “Wedding Crashers,” Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn waited eight years to team up again (especially given that they were offered countless re-up options after that R-rated comedy surprisingly soared to almost $210 million domestically). Anyway, they’re back together for “The Internship” of all movies; a watered-down PG-13 version of these same characters — it really might as well be them only almost a decade later — only this time older, more obsolete and jobless. It’s “Google Crashers” minus the piquant humor (for the most part anyhow) right down to the same rapport and character archetypes the two shared in the original ‘Crashers.’
A tedious set-up reveals antiquated salesmen Nick Campbell (Owen Wilson) and Billy McMahon (Vince Vaughn) who are relics from the past in for a rude awakening. The outdated albeit charming pair are quickly embarrassed during a sales pitch, their outdated-ness typified by the horrible, mostly unfunny moment where the duo blare Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic” on the car stereo as part of their "getting-pumped-to-sell” mix. It turns out that the mix and their fancy (and expensive) dinner were all for naught as the company they work for (run by their boss John Goodman) has already folded. Their careers deep-sixed by the digital age, Billy’s live-in girlfriend, tired of his failures, leaves him and Nick — hard on himself for playing life safe and not evolving all this time — takes a steady job at a mattress company at the behest of his sister.
Down, but not entirely out, a late night stroke of genius hits Billy while Googling for job openings….wait for it….why don’t they work for Google? He hatches a plan for he and Nick to become Google interns and after an awkward, not-that-funny video chat interview (B.J. Novak cameo), the duo are off to the tech company to vie for a much-sought-after position, competing with hundreds of brilliant, hungry and elite college students. Clearly inept about the Internet, let alone computers, the two are picked only for diversification reasons and the fact that their age may work in their favor as they already seem to “think outside the box.” Picking internship teams at Google is much like being last kids picked on the schoolyard and Billy and Nicky find themselves paired with the other misfits that no one wants; the apathetic and sarcastic Stuart Twombly (Dylan O’Brien), the sex-obsessed Neha Patel (Tiya Sircar) and the subjugated Asian Billy McMahon (Tophit Raphael), who is clearly traumatized by his domineering, success-obsessed mother.
Led by the uber-nervous/nerdy, insufferably buzzword-quoting team leader Lyle Spaulding (Josh Brener), the team will have to navigate both their skeptical Google intern manager Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mandvi) and the brilliant, tech-savvy students personified by the competitive, cut-throat British asshole Graham (Max Minghella). So what ensues is endless competition as the various intern teams are pitted against each other in challenges and games of wit, creativity, team-building, intelligence and problem-solving. And it’s almost baffling to realize that the movie is 2 hours long and yet somehow briskly feels like 90 minutes.
So “The Internship” isn’t particularly good, going down every predictable road imaginable (the ragtag misfits eventually rally together, the always-optimistic Nick pursues a romance with a frosty Google employee played by Rose Byrne), and as a movie (or piece of cinema), it’s rather pitiful, but despite all this, it’s far, far better than it has any right to be (and or how you’ve been led to believe so far; it may not be saying much, but it’s far, far better than Fox’s 2012 summer comedy starring Vince Vaughn, “The Watch”).
There are certainly myriad issues however, from the ceaseless, not particularly funny pop cultural references (“Star Wars,” “Big Bang Theory,” “Harry Potter,” “X-Men”), to the down-to-the-second predictable structure, to the excruciating use of pop music. (OK, the Spin Doctor’s “Two Princes” may not actually be used in this movie, but it might as well have been.) Written by Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern (who rewrote “The Watch” once Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg were done with it), one shudders to think that these two actually sat down together (or separately) to physically type words into a computer. It’s much more acceptable (and tolerable) to embrace the notion that they pitched an outline and then everyone just made up shit when they got to Google HQ. Either way, there is plenty enough of groan-inducing tripe that occurs in the movie that no one will want to highlight this on their CV.
That said, what’s remarkable about “The Internship” (though this is relative) is just how enjoyable and occasionally funny it can be despite a piss-poor screenplay that uses every cliche known to man. Where “The Internship” relatively succeeds and other similar mainstream comedies have failed is with the chemistry and dogged likable appeal of Wilson and especially Vaughn (both of whom literally work hard to win you over). The writer/star seems acutely aware how obnoxious and oafish his caricature is (the Vince Vaughn character he always plays), but credit to Vaughn for being so attuned to the character’s strengths and limitations, that he can still wring out a decent joke out of a horrible scene. The fact that Vaughn does this time and time again is impressive. The film somehow manages to be somewhat pleasurable in spite of going through some painfully unfunny sketches, that resemble more a steaming pile of dog shit than comedic copper, let alone gold. Additionally, “The Internship” has a lot of sincere, earnest heart. Sure, a frequently banal, stereotypical heart, but Vaughn and Wilson are so committed to playing the uncool, out-of-touch troublemakers, they ironically emerge as the most likable and relatable characters in a sea of cocky, asshole whiz kids (Josh Gad also has a small role).
Directed by Shawn Levy (“Night at the Museum,” “Date Night,” “Real Steel”), “The Internship” is paint-by-numbers in terms of filmmaking and story (even for a mainstream comedy) and full of promising scenes (one in particular at a strip club), that unfortunately have a habit of overstaying their welcome. There are some bright spots however. The cameo scenes by Will Ferrell and Rob Riggle are both hysterical, and Ferrell is so deliciously good that it rivals his “Wedding Crashers” appearance. Sure, you want the movie to veer off and just follow his character, but it’s a welcome funny break from some of the more unfortunate parts of the movie. Even in what should be a tired role for Vaughn, he can still consistently surprise you with his improv. The worst elements of the film are no doubt the “villains” of the movie and comedies could learn a thing or two about making their antagonists so oppressively black and white. Minghella’s arrogant overachiever is such a brutally relentless prick the only way audience satisfaction at his inevitable comeuppance could possibly be achieved would be if he was sodomized by bikers in slow motion and then had his head blown off with a shotgun; Mandvi’s dick character is only slightly more tolerable.
Make no mistake, “Google Crashers,” I mean, “The Internship” is kind of a terrible movie and perhaps it’s sad to think it exists while some struggling would-be genius filmmaker can’t get his project made due to lack of resources, but all things are relative and taken on its own, “The Internship” might be the best worst comedy of the year thus far. [C]