Not since the odd 1988 boy-meets-alien flop “Mac and Me” has there been a film as egregiously built around product placement as “The Internship.” While “Mac and Me” gratuitously gobbled up McDonalds, it wasn’t actually about the golden arches. But “The Internship,” on the other hand, is all about Google, possibly de-throning that silly E.T. rip-off as the king of product placement.
If you are able to look past the giant commercial elephant in the room, “The Internship” is actually a sweet throwback to the formulaic comedies of the late 1970s and 1980s. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are Nick and Billy, two out-of-work salesmen, who unrealistically hitch a ride with the Google internship program, pitting their “worldly experiences” of yesterday against the tech-savvy brain-children of tomorrow. What ensue are often funny rivalries among the interns to win the ultimate competition: to secure future employment with the company. “The Internship” contemporizes two classic 80s formulas: the campus rivalry romp and the fish-out-of-water attempting to win the day against their competitors, in this case tech-bully Graham (Max Minghella) and his team. Think Bill Murray’s “Stripes” or Tom Hanks’ “Volunteers” meets the nerds vs. the super nerds of “Real Genius.” These formulas seem to have been shelved for more than a decade, so it is indeed enjoyable to experience these tropes in an updated setting.
The chemistry between Wilson and Vaughn is kinetic and palpable. The two are completely in sync with each other and the spit-fire banter between them feels natural and improvisational. The two have considerably matured since their “Wedding Crashers” days. That these two aging comedians are surrounded by recent college grads and an almost foreign present-day is an interesting juxtaposition to watch as a transition in comedy is taking place with a new generation of comedians rising up. Vaughn, though, brushes the line of oversaturation at times, however manages to ease up on his obnoxious behavior just when it’s about to be too much. Wilson’s affable performance is both delightful and a welcome reprieve from an over-caffeinated Vaughn.
Though “The Internship” has genuine charm, some of the comedy is hit or miss. Half of the jokes are bull’s-eyes, half sadly are complete misfires. For instance, doe-eyed Lyle (Josh Brener), Nick and Billy’s 23 year-old mentor, is an annoying character attempting to cash in on the awkward geeksploitation made popular by Christopher Mintz-Plasse. The stereotype has become so passé it has lost its humor. The screenplay and story are written by Vaughn, who unloads a barrage of 80s movie references scene after scene, some obscure, some more obvious. “Flash Dance,” “Star Wars” and “The Fly” are recurring memes throughout. Vaughn’s script does a decent job blending nostalgia with our contemporary plugged-in society, almost reminding the audience that we took those old analog days for granted.
Though part of the film was shot in Georgia, director Shawn Levy and the cast were granted access to Google’s impressive Silicon Valley headquarters. The most enjoyable part of “The Internship” is actually seeing the Google culture at play. Employees gather around cafeterias with free food, play volleyball, ride Google-colored bikes, use driver-less cars and the best part: they can sneak off for some shut-eye in some futuristic –looking nap pods. The plot takes us through various sections of Google’s operation. The interns compete at developing a new Android app, finding a bug in some proprietary software code, become tech support phone operators and sell Google ads to small businesses. While these are all simplified for the sake of a silly comedy, it is still a unique perspective for this type of film.
Overall the performances are decent. Nick and Billy’s intern team is made up of a talented group of young actors, including Dylan O’Brien, Tiya Sircar and Tobit Raphael. Rose Byrne, John Goodman, Josh Gad and Aasif Mandvi nicely round out the supporting cast.
While hiring two guys like Nick and Billy at Google is a fantasy, at least for the sake of the company's future, “The Internship” is an often sweet and funny peek at the wizards behind the Google curtain.
MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 1 hour and 59 minutes.