‘The Internship’ Review
The term “product placement” feels insufficient to describe the role of Google in ‘The Internship.’ This is not so much product placement in a movie as movie placement in a product. For two hours, viewers are treated to a series of bright, high-energy sales pitches for the San Francisco search engine and its vast array of products and services — Google Play, Google Drive, Google Helpline, Google Maps and, of course, plain-old Googley Google — plus, occasional attempts at comedy from Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson while they stand in front of giant Google logos. Shameless? Absolutely. But that wouldn’t be such a problem if ‘The Internship’ wasn’t so mirthless, as well.
The reunion of Vaughn and Wilson makes this sound like a spiritual sequel to ‘Wedding Crashers,’ but ‘The Internship’ is actually a lot closer in spirit and formula to (i.e. it’s basically a ripoff of) Vaughn’s ‘Old School’ — a goofy comedy about a couple of lovable, aging slackers who go back to school, and take a bunch of hapless younger losers under their wing and teach them how to have fun and triumph over their jerkish betters at the same time. In this case, Vaughn and Wilson play Billy and Nick, smooth salesmen who find themselves unceremoniously out of work after their boss (John Goodman) sells his company and retires to Florida. Warned their skills are obsolete in a digital world, Billy and Nick decide to move into the tech sector, and fast talk their way into a primo internship at The Goog.
Arriving at the company’s Mountain View, CA headquarters, our heroes find a magical wonderland of bean bag chairs, yoga balls, volleyball courts, free coffee and bagels, and decommissioned rocket ships. Google is basically the best place to work in the whole wide world — a kid’s playground for socially uncomfortable grown-ups and Rose Byrne. Billy and Nick, the only old dudes in the group, are like lepers to their juniors, so they’re forcibly teamed by Aasif Mandvi’s internship coordinator with all the other internship misfits — they’re picked last, as it were, further reinforcing the playground metaphor. If Billy, Nick and their new partners want to win some coveted full-time jobs at Google — which, again, is a really awesome company with fabulous customer service and wonderful employee benefits — they’ll need to beat all the other interns in a series of challenges while learning to work and party together.
The product placement, not just for the “Search Engine That Shall Not Be Named Again,” but also Pappy Van Winkle, the University of Phoenix, ‘Star Wars‘ and the various products of the Coors Brewing Company, is relentless. But again, laughter excuses many sins. Funny is funny; Vince Vaughn’s last comedy, ‘The Watch,’ opened with Vaughn hawking HDTVs at Costco, but that movie had enough quality material to justify the commercialism (at least I thought so). Here, Vaughn (pulling triple duty as star, co-writer and co-producer) and director Shawn Levy clearly focused more of their energy on pleasing their sponsors than pleasing their audience, and they appear to have littered their screenplay with phrases right out of the Google brand book. (“Everybody’s searching for something,” one character says as if pitching a new tagline for the site, just before another guy compliments our heroes by noting that “their Googleyness is off the charts.”) There’s one early scene featuring a surprise cameo from a long-time Vaughn collaborator that is laugh-out-loud hilarious (and, in what might be a coincidence, totally product placement free). The rest of the runtime is basically a comedy dead zone. The actors are all likable, but they’re given nothing likable to do. It’s unamusing enough to make you consider a switch back to Ask Jeeves.
The faint wisps of subtext in ‘The Internship’ all involve immature men growing older; Nick and Billy are former watch salesmen who tell prospective clients that “you can’t control time, but you can manage it.” When he loses everything, Billy cannily realizes he needs to update his act, but Vaughn should have followed his own character’s path. ‘The Internship’ has a forward-thinking setting, but otherwise it’s the same slobs-versus-snobs stuff the actors have been peddling for over a decade — and in much funnier movies than this one. You know their names; if you don’t, there’s a great website where you can look them all up. It’s called, uh… wait, what’s its name again?
‘The Internship’ opens in theaters Friday, June 7.
Matt Singer is a Webby award winning writer and podcaster. He currently runs the Criticwire blog on Indiewire and co-hosts the Filmspotting: Streaming Video Unit podcast. His criticism has appeared in the pages of The Village Voice and Time Out New York and on ‘Ebert Presents at the Movies.’ He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, dog, and a prop sword from the movie ‘Gymkata.’