The Internship is one of those movies that milks its stars’ inherent charisma for as long as it can, but it does so mainly because it has little else. Apparently made in partnership with Google, the film stars Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson as two down-on-their-luck Gen X salesmen who get an internship at the tech giant and have to compete against an army of code-happy millennials for coveted jobs. Based solely on that premise, the thing feels like it could write itself. When you see the movie, you suspect that maybe it has.
We think of Vaughn and Wilson as some kind of established comedy duo, but, aside from cameos and bit parts, Wedding Crashers — eight years ago! — was the only movie in which they really worked together as a comedy team. (They were also in Starsky & Hutch, but that was more Wilson and Ben Stiller’s show.) Maybe that’s because they’re both variations on a similar type — the overconfident, all-American charmer — and thus more effective when cast next to dweeby everymen like Ben Stiller. But they do have different styles: Vaughn’s usually the imposing motormouth, while Wilson plays the soft, laid-back type. Wedding Crashers exploited that difference for all it was worth, to hilarious results. The Internship does that a bit, too, but here their characters feel mostly interchangeable.
When we first meet Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson), they’re watch salesmen smooth-talking a store owner, only to be told that their company has shut down. Not knowing where to turn in an economy that won’t have them, they score an (unlikely) internship at Google, where they have to join a team of young social outcasts and compete against other teams of interns through a series of challenges — everything from a Quidditch match to designing a hot new app. Only the winners will have jobs at the end of the summer.
It’s basically Old School, only instead of an imaginary stuffed-shirt academy, we have real-life corporate branding — and all the narrative compromises that come with that. The whole Google tie-in is definitely a little creepy. It’s not so much that the company is presented as the coolest place ever to work, what with its free commissary and its nap rooms and its fun, colorful campus; all that actually makes sense within the context of a story in which our heroes are desperate to land jobs there. But Google, and its authority figures, seem so frustratingly infallible. Even Aasif Mandvi, excellent as the stern taskmaster in charge of the interns and of running the contest, is essentially playing a firm but fair type: Though the film has some fun at his expense, he’s less Crusty Old Dean and more Severus Snape.
Still, these guys are so damned likable that it’s hard not to root for them. As expected, Billy and Nick learn to bond with their young, dorky teammates, and everybody teaches everybody else a thing or two, and mild chuckles ensue. There isn’t even much conflict or suspense; Max Minghella is mostly wasted as the sneering, entitled, British-accented leader of an opposing team of interns.
Occasionally, though, a bit of realism peeks through: There’s genuine pathos to Vaughn’s portrayal of a guy who has the social skills to sell anything, but finds himself out of step with the compulsive, tech-savvy world around him. You wish the film would do more with that, but, well, you’re looking in the wrong movie for true character development. Wilson’s character is even less defined; his main gig here is to romance a workaholic Google honcho played by the lovely Rose Byrne. They do have one terrific scene together, when he takes her out on a date and, upon her request, presents her with a diverse medley of faux-bad-date experiences: He’s charming throughout, but amid all his jerky banter, you get the sense that he’s probably been that guy at various points in his life. There’s so much soul to the scene that it feels like it’s been airlifted in from a far better film.
The rest of the movie is a halfhearted mess. A scene where Billy and Nick take their introverted, socially maladjusted teammates to a rowdy strip club drags on forever, with montage upon montage of them boozing it up, of college kids discovering the pleasures of purchased flesh, etc. It’s as if the filmmakers couldn’t come up with any other bonding scenes for these characters, so they just made one scene extra-long, hoping we wouldn’t notice. The laziness is at times breathtaking. The Internship is a hard movie to hate, but it’s not that easy to like, either.