Insubstantial "Internship" Not Without Merit

For someone who isn’t exactly a household name, director Shawn Levy (“Night At The Museum,” “Real Steel”) has a remarkable knack for landing big projects with seriously talented leads. Even more remarkable? Levy’s ability to squander those talents time and time again. Financial success aside – his films have made billions of dollars worldwide – Levy has extraordinarily little to show for his work with superstars such as Steve Martin, Ben Stiller, Steve Carell, and Hugh Jackman. Sure, he’s been saddled with some awful screenplays, but he’s also worked some genuinely gifted screenwriters – Thomas Lennon and John Gatins among them. Levy’s latest film, “The Internship,” predictably collapses out of the starting gate. But fortunately, despite Levy’s best efforts to the contrary, the story doesn’t end there.

Eight years on from the broad, bawdy, and uproarious “Wedding Crashers,” Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson have reunited to play two middle-aged, unemployed salesmen who see their big break in the form of an unpaid internship at Google. The banality of the film’s set-up is only partly assuaged by an early cameo from a comedic luminary, and some exceptionally poor acting from a couple of ancillary characters only adds to the feeling of dread. As I stared the remainder of the picture’s 120 minute running time in the face, I prepared for the worst.

As soon as Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson) arrive at Googleplex (Google’s corporate headquarters in Northern California), the film becomes an uneasy mix of fish-out-of-water clichés and Google product placement. Seriously, it’s really, really awesome to work at Google, you guys! As other interns are introduced into the story (including Max Minghella as arrogant hotshot, Graham), it becomes entirely clear how the film will end and how it’ll get there. Aasif Mandvi (“The Daily Show”) plays the prickly head of the intern program, while Josh Brener (“The Big Bang Theory”) plays team leader to Billy and Nick. The rest of the team is made up of a stereotypically motley crew of geeks, all forced to band together to win challenges in order to have a shot at a full-time position at Google.

The film’s first hour is curiously short on laughs, an affliction that never really subsides. Yet, the likability of the cast eventually wore me down, and combined with the endpoint of some truly laborious exposition, the film started to win me back at its midpoint, beginning with an overlong but genial team bonding montage that takes place inside a strip club. In fact, the whole movie is just so damn affable that despite its major shortcomings – Levy’s bland direction chief among them – it’s hard to dislike. The development of Billy, Nick, and their team members is often charming and sporadically poignant. A late cameo by Josh Gad as a mysterious Google employee is a highlight.

I can’t understate how lightweight the whole enterprise is, but “The Internship” is occasionally giggle-worthy and I particularly enjoyed Rose Byrne as Wilson’s decreasingly crotchety superior-slash-love interest. Fans of Vaughn and Wilson shouldn’t expect the highs of “Wedding Crashers” (“The Internship” is PG-13, after all) but as far as amiability goes, it’s almost off the charts. It’s too bad that the film doesn’t strive to be anything more, but it’s one of the higher-water marks in Shawn Levy’s career, and that it’s not a complete disaster might be a victory in itself.

-J. Olson

Rating: ★★★ out of ★★★★★ (Okay)

Release Date: June 7, 2013
Studio: 20th Century Fox
Director: Shawn Levy
Screenwriter: Vince Vaughn
Starring: Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson, Max Minghella, Rose Byrne, John Goodman, Dylan O’Brien, JoAnna Garcia, Eric Andre, Josh Brener, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael, Will Ferrell
MPAA Rating: PG-13 (for sexuality, some crude humor, partying and language)