Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Rose Byrne, Aasif Mandvi, Max Minghella, Josh Brener, Tobit Raphael, Jessica Szohr, Dylan O’Brien, Will Ferrell, John Goodman
Rating: PG-13, and somewhat generously, for profanity, sexuality and considerable crude humor
Limp comedy searches for laughs in an uninspired script
By Derrick Bang
Enterprise film critic
Fans hoping that a reunion with Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson means another hilarious raunch-fest — along the lines of “Wedding Crashers” — are in for a major disappointment.
“The Internship” is a sweet, gooey, insubstantial and totally forgettable little fairy tale … with just enough coarse humor to stretch the boundaries of its PG-13 rating, while also compromising the story’s otherwise fluffy tone. Director Shawn Levy clearly doesn’t know how to approach this project; he’s obviously much more comfortable with overly broad slapstick such as “Night at the Museum” and “Date Night.”
Levy flails amid this film’s mostly gentle tone, and he further exacerbates the clumsy pacing by s-t-r-e-t-c-h-i-n-g this minor giggle far beyond what the material can support. Seriously, two hours? Since when do lightweight comedies need anything beyond 95 minutes?
Yes, Vaughn and Wilson riff each other reasonably well, although I frequently had the impression — glancing at their eyes, and how their lips seemed primed to twitch — that they desperately wanted more profane dialogue. They deliver well-timed rat-a-tat exchanges, although the script — credited to Vaughn and Jared Stern — is both unimaginative and quite redundant.
Indeed, this story delivers at least two “Let’s win this one, kids!” speeches too many.
We meet Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson) — glib, silver-tongued salesmen who could offload sand on desert sheikhs — just as they learn that their company has folded. Out of work, and for some reason unable (unwilling?) to investigate other sales jobs, they ponder their fate as dinosaurs in an environment where even whip-smart college grads aren’t guaranteed employment.
Nick gets minor sympathy from his sister; Billy gets none from a wife/girlfriend who lingers onscreen only long enough to dump him. Neither actress is seen again, leading us to wonder why we met them at all.
While using the world’s ubiquitous search engine one evening, trolling for jobs, Billy impulsively decides that Google itself is the answer; after all, its Mountain View headquarters looks like a plush gig. Never mind that he and Nick haven’t a whiff of computer training, and we assume they also skipped college en route to their sales careers.
They somehow bluff their way through an online interview for an internship that might result in actual employment (one of many scenes where Vaughn and Wilson overwork thin material).
They nonetheless gain entry as “diversity” candidates, and of course — upon arrival at Google’s corporate Googleplex — they’re twice as old and half as smart (if that) as everybody else in the room. As explained by somewhat imperious intern wrangler Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mandvi, a note-perfect scene-stealer), the summer’s activities are to be a competition: Teams of five interns will tackle various challenges, with employment offered solely to the one team that triumphs.
Nick and Billy wind up on a team of overlooked (but still quite smart) misfits: the hyper-sensitive Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael), who tortures his body after perceived failures; Marielena (Jessica Szohr), a “cosplay” fan who adores pop-culture sci-fi and fantasy; and Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), a somewhat withdrawn genius more comfortable staring at his smartphone than interacting with people.
This group is chaperoned by inexperienced Google staffer Lyle (Josh Brener), insecure because this is the first time he has mentored an internship team.
From Day One, their arch-rival turns out to be Graham (Max Minghella), an obnoxious, condescending jerk who never misses an opportunity to belittle Billy and Nick. Graham heads his own team: Call them the overly nasty Slytherins to Billy and Nick’s kinder, gentler Gryffindors … a symbolic divide further driven home when one of the Google challenges turns out to be a ground-based Quidditch match.
We never meet any of the other interns, nor do their various teams figure at all in this story. It’s as if the other 100 or so people simply don’t exist. For that matter, Graham’s teammates also never get introduced, nor do they get any dialogue, aside from one poor guy singled out as “the fat kid.” That’s pretty shallow scripting.
Nick immediately notices a workaholic Google exec (Rose Byrne, as Dana) who shouldn’t give him the time of day, and doesn’t for awhile, but we know that she’ll eventually change her mind. Indeed, Wilson and Byrne share a dinner date that turns out to be one of this film’s few genuinely funny and warm-hearted scenes: a stand-out moment.
Sadly, it’s one of few. Vaughn and Wilson never seem comfortable as de facto father figures, and their various can-do lectures lack conviction. And while it may be amusing the first time Billy draws his fortune-cookie wisdom from the underdog plot of 1983’s “Flashdance,” that running gag quickly wears thin.
Naturally, our heroes encourage their young entourage to “live a little” by taking them to a strip club, a detour that seems to have wandered in from some other film. The boys can’t get enough lap dances, while Marielena agreeably tolerates this questionable environment because she, too, secretly loves the “release” of pole-dancing. Or something like that.
The young performers are engaging, even endearing, and they sketch reasonable performances from the script’s wafer-thin character notes. Raphael’s repressed Yo-Yo is a stitch, particularly as he “punishes” himself by slowly plucking one eyebrow into oblivion (a much more palatable alternative to, say, cutting). Szohr channels some vulnerability as Marielena, probably this story’s closest approximation to a real human being.
O’Brien thaws credibly as the initially wary but eventually accommodating Stuart, and Brener’s eager-beaver Lyle is moderately funny for the way he constantly over-compensates.
Byrne, as well, is appropriately tart as the wary Dana, naturally suspicious of a smooth talker like Nick; Byrne delivers her lines quite well. Josh Gad pops up as a silent, bearded “Google Jedi” who comes to Billy’s aid at an emotionally crucial moment: a cute part with an amusing payoff.
On the other hand, John Goodman is wasted in a pointless cameo as Billy and Nick’s initial boss: the guy who exists mostly to tell them they’ve lost their jobs, after which he exits the stage.
Far worse, Will Ferrell pops up as Nick’s sister’s lecherous boyfriend, a mattress salesman who seems determined to copulate — on his own merchandise — with every babe who wanders into his store. Ferrell isn’t the slightest bit funny, and — as with the strip club sequence — this vulgar detour seems to belong to some other film.
As for this film, though, it’s difficult to shake the notion that it’s little more than a frankly astonishing valentine to Google: a jaw-dropping example of corporate placement that bodes ill for the future of such behavior. Given that the Googleplex and its staffers’ “googliness” are as much a character as any of the human cast members, this Silicon Valley country club fares better than they do.
In other words, having endured this inconsequential film, I’d love to work at Google … but not alongside any of these twits.
— Read more of Derrick Bang’s film criticism at http://derrickbang.blogspot.com. Comment on this review at www.davisenterprise.com