June 3, 2013

Review: 'The Internship' – Searching for Comedy

Based on trailers and marketing, you might think The Internship is just Hollywood product placement run amok. Fortunately, the buddy comedy, despite the very visible brand awareness, is hardly about the online search giant Google or really much of anything of substance at all. Unfortunately, the film around the online brand is a long, awkward, only occasionally amusing, mostly embarrassing effort, not unlike many actual internships.

Based on an idea and co-written by star Vince Vaughn, teaming up once again with Owen Wilson, director Shawn Levy meanders through the comedy, wasting the talents of his cast, trying desperately to recreate the wacky adventures of Wedding Crashers in this watered down fare (think "Google Crashers"). Vaughn riffs, references, and tries to recreate the nostalgia of '80s workplace comedies around a twenty-first century setting yet stumbles at every turn. He and Wilson go on long, misinformed diatribes based on their tried and true salesmen techniques but are surprised when everyone uses Google on their phones to prove their points wrong. This is one example of many running jokes that go on and on.

Levy squanders what little premise there is and the talented cast. Google's campus seems like a playground of comic potential but all the jokes and the script in general are so blandly conventional and formulaic. The film could have been set anywhere. The fact that it's set at Google makes its jokes slightly timelier if still unfunny with its Hunger Games style competitions and pop culture references. Levy even casts Max Minghella as a cringe worthy bully type villain with zero redeeming qualities or any sense of humour.

The biggest sin is Rose Byrne. She's criminally saddled to a nothing romance with Wilson. Her talents are wasted with speeches about how she's worked her personal life away and having a husband and family will never happen for her, despite her being only thirty (apparently "over the hill"), impossibly beautiful, and having a successful career.

The portrayal of Google is very generic. Shot on its campus, there seems to be four random employees walking around in a sea of interns who compete in ridiculous challenges (including a game of Quidditch). It's hard to believe Google would approve of a script that ill defines its business and  technology as a whole and so poorly. The product placement and plotting around Google's work culture would be offensive if they weren't so forgettable.

Nothing of consequence happens from scene to scene. They are constructed to let Vaughn and Wilson riff. The funniest scene takes place in a mattress store early in the film and consists almost entirely of one-liners and really has nothing to do with the rest of the film. The filmmakers have the lowest level of understanding for youth tech culture. Vaughn and Wilson show their undeniable chemistry and comedic rhythm. However, it's mostly horribly out of place and has nothing to do with their so-called internship.

The film revolves around the idea that young people are smart but lacking in experience and social skills, while older folks are out of touch but are experienced and wise. Obviously, modern work places are made of of many different kinds of people from diverse backgrounds (especially at Google) including experienced young people and savvy elders. All this mishmash of thin comedic elements culminates in a horrible series of monologues about virtue and hard work in the Google atrium as Vaughn throws pizzas at a room full of inexplicably cheering interns.

The Internship fails to be a film about anything and mostly unfunny at that. Despite a fairly likeable cast and compelling leads, it packs all the generic elements of a comedy (including a bland, forced, unnatural romance and stock characters) into a very long two hours, dragging out what little comedic drama it creates out of whole stereotypes.

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