Whatever chemistry existed between Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn in 2005’s hilarious “Wedding Crashers” is diminished in the tedium of “The Internship”, which could resemble a two-hour episode of “Romper Room” if it were filmed at Google headquarters. A few laughs in the first half hour suggest that the film’s writers (Vaughn and Jared Stern of last year’s godawful “The Watch”) might actually have some fresh material up their sleeves, but director Shawn Levy (“Date Night”) plays things so close to the vest that the only chuckles you will let out are likely to come from sheer boredom.
Most comedies hew to some type of formula, but “The Internship” is a blatant cut-and-paste exercise with little else to offer, and is so vanilla that you’re more likely to be offended by Stern’s work on “Mr. Popper’s Penguins.” Nick (Wilson) and Billy (Vaughn) are laid off from their sales positions at a watch manufacturer and weasel their way into a summer internship program at Google where they compete for a paying job. They know nothing about the culture or the technology but are great at delivering bizarre anecdotes and metaphors about life’s little hurdles. Hey, maybe I can get a job there too.
It’s nothing if not a long shot, but their nonsensical jabbering got them the internship, so anything must be possible. Their sickly sweet optimism has them forging ahead and shrugging off adversity with the faded charm of characters they’ve played in the past, and as their experience proves invaluable to their teammates, a collective of stereotypical brainiacs who are half their age, the more mushy the film becomes. At some point, it’s as if Levy forgot he was making a comedy altogether.
It seems the only point of “The Internship” is to comment over and over and over on the generational gap between these guys and the typical twenty-year-old “Googler”, boiling down to a few less than inspiring sales pitches, several “Flashdance” references and one of the dumbest endings in recent memory. We get it – Google is a progressive place with a really pretty building and young, dynamic minds, and these two guys (who are just diluted versions of their “Wedding Crashers” characters) are considered dinosaurs who’ve been rendered obsolete by the digital age. Of course, Vaughn and Wilson fall into the requisite mentoring roles, teaching the tech geeks how to work as a team and get out in the world (which consists of a strip club and a spot overlooking the Golden Gate bridge) as if they’d just been hatched from a mainframe. It’s no surprise that everything falls into place neatly, but it’s with a dull, familiar thud.
If the film has potential, it never gets out from under its own contrived silliness. The various scenarios lack creativity, instead giving use one recycled idea after another, and the clever quips are too few and far between. The ancillary characters are mostly exaggerated; Graham (Max Minghella, who was great in “The Social Network”), is the obnoxious nemesis who treats the competition like it’s Thunderdome; Lyle (Josh Brener) is an overzealous team leader who falls in love with a dance instructor at Google who moonlights as a stripper. A side plot with Nick’s burgeoning love interest, an employee named Dana (Rose Byrne of “Bridesmaids”), fits the mold but goes nowhere. There are a few redeeming qualities – Aasif Mandvi (“Ruby Sparks”) plays their hilariously rigid boss and Rob Riggle (“21 Jump Street”) is a weirdo who works in a retirement community. Will Ferrell and John Goodman also have amusing cameos.
Though it’s hard to completely pan a film that is so genuinely good-natured, I find myself struggling to say much else good about it. Levy likes his story lines with some miles on them, and indeed we’ve seen this movie several times before. Without much purpose other than to reunite Vaughn and Wilson, “The Internship” will probably slip your mind a few minutes after you walk out of the theater. That said, I suppose I’ll take it over “The Hangover Part III” any day.