This reunion for “Wedding Crashers” duo Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson begins with the most common crutch in Hollywood comedies nowadays—the sing-along to an old pop song that’s supposed to connect the characters emotionally to the audience. That proves to be symptomatic of what’s wrong with “The Internship,” which also repeatedly uses references to “Flashdance” as a motivational device for its characters. It’s a lazy comedy, innocuous and inoffensive but formulaic and tired, as well as fatally overlong.
It’s also the single longest cinematic commercial for an actual business enterprise in memory—Google. When long-time watch salesmen Billy McMahon (Vaughn) and Nick Campbell (Wilson) find that their company, headed by a sleazy boss (John Goodman, in another in his string of flat cameos), has abruptly folded, they’re at a loss. While Nick takes a humiliating job at the mattress store headed by his sister’s boyfriend (Will Ferrell, in an even worse cameo), Billy hatches the notion to apply for internships at Google that might lead to jobs despite their lack of technical expertise. Enrolling himself and his chum in the online University of Phoenix (the positions are available only to students), Billy persuades Nick to do a video-conference interview for the program, which leads to their acceptance, thanks to think-outside-the-box selection committee member Lyle (Josh Brener).
After their arrival at the Google complex—presented as a happy wonderland of glitz, gizmos, company-provided benefits and eager innovators—Lyle also becomes the leader of the team Billy and Nick join to compete in a contest to determine which interns will get those coveted jobs. Naturally it’s the misfit bunch—the ones nobody else wants to pair with. In addition to our heroes, it consists of crabby Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), home-schooled overachiever Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael) and exuberant but virginal Neha (Tiya Sircar). Naturally they’re pitted against a squad headed by an obnoxious, dismissive—and nefarious—fellow, Graham (Max Minghella), whose villainy is also indicated by the fact that he has an accent. (Typically, the efforts of the myriad other teams are ignored completely.)
The plot trajectory here is utterly predictable. Initially the team will be at one another’s throats. But Billy and Nick’s social skills will lead them to bond, and after some setbacks they actually start to win some of the “challenges” against Graham’s hand-picked group. But a roadblock inevitably occurs to their personal and professional progress, sending sparkplug Billy off on a funk of depression. It’s only his return—and his sales expertise—that allow the team to score an unexpected last-minute triumph. Along the way they’ll earn the grudging admiration of Mr. Chetty (Aasif Mandvi), the internship’s stern overseer, and Nick will develop a romantic relationship with pretty Google workaholic Dana (Rose Byrne).
In contriving the episodes for this by-the-numbers scenario, Vaughn and Jared Stern don’t seem to have been worried about consistency. Billy and Nick are supposed to be pop culture masters, for instance, but for the sake of cheap laughs they’re portrayed as being totally ignorant of either the “X-Men” movies or Harry Potter’s Quidditch game. There are a few funny bits, mostly involving Brener, Mandvi and Byrne, and happily the picture avoids the coarseness so commonplace in comedies today (the nearest it comes is a visit to a pole-dance club where the big jokes deal with overindulging in tequila, coming on to lap dancers and an obligatory barroom brawl—hardly cutting-edge stuff). But Shawn Levy’s lackadaisical, permissive direction allows scenes to meander and stall, and even Vaughn’s verbal riffs and the goofy back-and-forth between him and Wilson no longer have the pizzazz they once did.
There’s also the glorification of the Google culture to contend with—a shameless shower of praise that amounts to something very much like a two-hour promotional feature. That’s probably better than using a phony, made-up firm instead, but one might have hoped for a few satirical swipes along the way. Apart from the hint of overwork by some of the staff, though, there’s nary a chink in the corporate shining armor.
“The Internship” is an attractive technical package, with the production design (Tom Meyer), art direction (Christa Munro), sets (Jan Pascale, Mayumi Konishi-Valentine and Sheila Nash) and cinematography (Jonathan Brown) all fine. But it’s a case of old goods festooned in brightly-colored wrapping that has a corporate symbol embossed on it.