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The Internship

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Vaughn-Wilson comedy doesn't get the job done
By James Rocchi, Special to MSN Movies

Starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, "The Internship" has a simple basic plot: Two fired watch salesmen (Vaughn and WIlson), foundering in the shallow sharp-rocked shoals of our economy, decide to embrace the future by applying for, and getting, internships at Internet powerhouse Google. The first question is, of course, whether the future wants to be embraced by these two charming louts, with their aging Gen-X ways and pre-information revolution résumés. The next, better question is whether "The Internship" is actually funny.

Bing: More about Vince Vaughn | More on Owen Wilson

"The Internship" is co-written by Vaughn and Jared Stern; Vaughn came up with the original story. If you look at the material Vaughn has writing credits on -- "The Break-Up," "Couples Retreat" and this film -- what's worth noting is how Vaughn has something flinty and sharp and hard under the seemingly-glib and glossy surfaces of the films those initial ideas and scripts wind up becoming. It's easy to imagine, or hope, that at some point Vaughn's rawer, more real ideas might be able to struggle out through the strangling, swaddling wrapping of layers of easily-marketable gags and test-audience "fixes" and studio notes and artificially mandated "happy endings" and "likable characters" that are the very definition of the modern big-studio comedy. You can feel the outlines of that smarter, stranger Vaughn in almost everything he does, muffled beneath the gloss and the strained attempts at happy endings and "closure," like a dagger under a pillow, clearly there but blunted and smothered.

Director Shawn Levy's last film, "Real Steel," was a solid kid's flick about robot boxing, and Levy is a fairly earnest showman in the majority of his films, but something doesn't quite happen here; it's like, again, the movie everyone wanted to make was at war with the movie they knew they had to make.

Wilson and Vaughn manage to worm, weasel and wild-card their way into the Google internship program, are placed on a team of fellow interns and informed that only one team of interns -- the team who win challenges from coding to playing Quidditch -- will wind up with jobs at Google, according to hard-line manager Mr. Chetty (Assif Mandivi). And so Vaughn and Wilson wind up teamed with bored hipster Dylan O'Brien, sex-obsessed trash-talker Tiya Sincar and uptight space-case Tobit Raphael, led by Google employee Josh Brenner. And, of course, Vaughn and Wilson have no skills that can help (talking about his coding abilities, Vaughn suggests C++ is a grade, not a programming language.)
But for every nicely-tuned acting turn (Max Minghella sneers as the snob intent on breaking Vaughn and Wilson; Josh Gad is hirsute and humbled as a programming whiz), there's a piece of stunning product placement. (Vaughn can pick up a beer so its label is camera-facing perfectly; would that that much care had gone into the script.) And the film's desire to lionize Google as the savior of capitalism and human endeavor is a little much; a little more skepticism about how utopia will not bloom from a thousand Droid apps would have gone a long way.

Like most American comedies of this ilk -- and this is a fairly well-milked ilk -- "The Internship" moves along with triumphs and setbacks, bonding and betrayal, as Wilson and Vaughn teach their teammates how to relax, loosen up and succeed. (Just once, wouldn't you like to see an American comedy where the confident, fast-talking slackers wind up learning from the uptight strivers to win the day?) "The Internship" winds up being exactly the kind of film Vaughn mocked -- and superbly -- with "Dodgeball: A True Underdog Story," with easy finales and against-the-odds successes that feel pre-ordained. The biggest problem with "The Internship" isn't the actors (all of whom are charming) or the direction (which is glossily adequate). It's lazy, formulaic writing that kills "The Internship" as, in the end, victory occurs not because of anything Wilson and Vaughn's characters do, but instead comes because Wilson and Vaughn's characters are played by Wilson and Vaughn. There are plenty of films out there competing for your money so they can make you laugh this summer; "The Internship" doesn't even deserve a part-time gig toward that aim.

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James Rocchi's writings on film have appeared at Cinematical.com, Netflix.com, AMCtv.com, IFC.com, SFGate.com and in Mother Jones magazine. He was also the on-air film critic for San Francisco's CBS-5 from 2006 to 2008. He now lives in Los Angeles, where every ending is a twist ending.

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