“The Internship” stars Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn eagerly reworking the guys-guys banter as comedy routine that made “Wedding Crashers” a box-office hit in 2005. They need to try harder. Banter is a wonderful way to ace your Q&A with Letterman. It can serve as a nice complement to a drama. But you cannot make a comedy from just that. It's a lesson directors have not yet grasped (Remember last year's “The Watch”?) that audiences will have to endure at least one more time.
Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson) are best friends whose back-slapping, friendly personalities make them excellent watch salesmen. But no one is buying watches. And nobody wants to deal with people anymore, their fed-up boss (John Goodman) says. That means Billy and Nick are obsolete as well as unemployed.
Some hope remains. While conducting the world's most pathetic online job search, Billy secures he and Nick an interview for an internship at Google. After getting the gig comes the hard part: they have to compete against dozens of much younger and better skilled applicants for actual jobs at the company. The old dudes do belong to a team of tech-savvy college kids who abhor them – until the whippersnappers look up from their iPhones and embrace life.
The “a whole world exists beyond your phone, kids” isn't the most annoying aspect here. Neither is the, “Hey, old timers, your social skills never age,” reassurances. “The Internship” never aspires to be funny in an original way. Vaughn, writing with Jared Stern (“The Watch”), trots out jokes and characters coated in an inch of dust. Rose Byrne, who stole scenes in “Bridesmaids,” plays an overworked Google executive who finds her soul only after sleeping with Nick. For reasons I'm not clear on, Aasif Mandvi fashions a ridiculous Indian accent as the internship's supervisor. Still not bored or offended? How about a nerdy Asian kid (Tobit Raphael) who's really a party animal and brown-nosing bad guy Max Minghella acting with his eyebrows?
All that is sandwiched between Vaughn and Wilson's shtick, which consists of talking a mile a minute while butchering Internet terms and tossing out pop culture references. There's no slate of jokes as much as there is a tone of haughtiness: “Hey, audience, you've heard this all before, so just laugh at the cadence and the visual cues.” You should really start chuckling when Rob Riggle and Will Ferrell show up.
“The Internship's” dramatic elements keep it from receiving our full-blown contempt. The despair that drives two 40-something friends toward their last grasp at professional and personal fulfillment makes it engaging. The fears of the characters touched me: how the older you get, the more irrelevant you feel; the sympathy I have for recent college graduates entering a job market where they are guaranteed to be overworked and undervalued.
Tom Hanks tried to go that route with his unemployment drama “Larry Crowne” only to prove that celebrities have no idea how to portray real people and their problems without insulting us. (In Hanks' world, community college solves everything.) Two years later, “The Internship” demonstrates that Hollywood can't make us laugh about our troubles for a couple of hours. I think that is the greater offense.
Rating: W W
-To read more of Pete's cinematic musings, please visit whatpeteswatching.blogspot.com or follow him on Twitter, @PeteCroatto.