Review: Google should pay you to see 'The Internship'

Published: Thursday, June 6, 2013 5:30 a.m.CDT

Besides being a particularly lazy comedy for Vince Vaughn, “The Internship” is a two-hour recruitment ad for Google.

The Google logo appears so often you shouldn’t have to pay to see this movie. Google should pay you.

Why a famously successful company already reputed to be one of the best places in America to work would need to align itself with a by-the-numbers comedy to attract applicants is a mystery. But those who subject themselves to “The Internship” will learn the many benefits of employment at Google’s Silicon Valley campus.

The greatest of these would be the relaxed workplace environment. The headquarters’ atrium looks like the world’s largest preschool, with toys and pillows strewn about the comfortable seating area. The food and drinks in the lobby’s coffee bar are gratis.

Best of all, nobody appears to work. The happy “Googlers,” as they are called, spend their days cruising the campus on company-provided bicycles, taking company-sanctioned naps in special pods and playing in a company-sponsored quidditch tournament. Apparently computers take care of all that search engine stuff while the staff is playing and napping.

As they once crashed weddings, Vaughn and co-star Owen Wilson crash this workplace utopia and shake it up with their devil-may-care boyishness. Except that no, they don’t. They look about with their mouths agape and marvel at the wonderfulness of it all. Instead of being a contemporary workplace “Stripes,” it’s the contemporary workplace “Top Gun,” which boosted Navy recruitment.

Vaughn and Wilson play a pair of high-flying watch salesmen who lose their jobs because smartphones supposedly have made watches obsolete. Employment prospects look bleak for a two guys in their 40s with no job skills besides hustling.

Vaughn’s Billy McMahon is the schemer of the pair (of course) and he convinces Wilson’s soulful (of course) Nick Campell to scam their way into Google’s summer college intern program. To qualify, they enroll in Phoenix University, “the Harvard of Internet colleges.” Google isn’t the only Web-based business to get a plug.

Despite their appalling lack of computer knowledge (Billy says “on the line” instead of “online”) the friends make the cut and arrive at Google looking as out of place as giants in Munchkinland. From here on “Internship” strives to be an outsiders vs. elitists ’80s comedy like “Revenge of the Nerds” and “Meatballs” as teams of interns compete to land full-time employment.

Naturally, Billy and Nick land in a team of outcasts. The others are the antisocial Stuart (Dylan O’Brien), who never looks up from his smartphone screen; Neha (Tiya Sircar) who is supposed to be a misfit even though she is pretty, smart and has a good sense of humor; and Asian stereotype Yo-Yo (Tobit Raphael), who is literally brow-beaten by his domineering mother. When nervous, which is most of the time, he plucks at his eyebrow. You can guess where that joke leads.

Their Google team leader is Lyle, who is 23 but looks 13 and can’t get through a sentence without making a “Star Wars” reference. Naturally, there is a nasty leader of a rival team, and he is played by Max Minghella, who is not tall and blonde as the character would be in an ’80s movie, but he is British so we know he is mean. Rose Byrne plays the obligatory love interest for Wilson, and her character, a Google executive, is as interesting as the word “obligatory” implies.

“Internship” is directed by Shawn Levy, who occasionally makes good movies (“Date Night,” “Real Steal”) but mostly churns out dumb and obvious comedies like the “Pink Panther” remake. We know “Internship” falls in the second category from the very first scene, which has the two stars singing along to a cheesy song on the car stereo, Alanis Morissette’s “Ironic.”

Editing must be a foreign concept to Levy, because almost every scene runs much longer than necessary. The role-playing quidditch match in this movie takes up more time than the real thing in a Harry Potter movie.

Much of the blame belongs to Vaughn. He produced the film, conceived its story and co-wrote the script with Jared Stern (“The Watch”). The screenplay is so filled with his familiar, glad-handing blah blah blah that one of his exasperated teammates shouts, “You’re speaking a lot of words really fast and saying nothing.” Some movies review themselves, I tell you.

On the positive side, “Internship” is not another mean-spirited comedy along the lines of “Identity Thief” or the “Hangover” movies. Instead, it is eerily positive and life-affirming, practically an ABC Afterschool Special – albeit, an Afterschool Special where strip clubs and tequila shots lead to personal fulfillment.

That optimism might have been one of Google’s conditions for its participation. The near-religious praise for the company and its mission is embarrassing. “What we do here is make people’s lives just a little bit easier,” Byrne’s character says. In the final shot, after Vaughn and Wilson step out of frame, the camera rises to linger over the glories of Google headquarters as if it were the cathedral at Chartres.

Google provides a great service. It was handy just now when I needed to look up the correct spelling of Afterschool Special (no hyphen, oddly enough), but that’s not the same thing as curing cancer. “The Internship” wants you to believe they are equal. This is what happens when corporate sponsorship masquerades as filmmaking.

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