Watching The Internship, it's hard for me to realize that Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn have only co-starred in one film together - 2005's The Wedding Crashers. They've both been omnipresent forces in a lot of films I've enjoyed over the years, and others that I've barely tolerated. But something about their respective style's, Wilson's soft delivery of observational humor and Vaughn's brash torrent of seeming free-associated dialogue, worked very well together. It seemed like the perfect match before.
Now, it feels tired. It's been eight years since The Wedding Crashers came out and the two have settled into careers of comedy and drama with different levels of success. The Internship is a blatant ploy to recapture the essence of their partnership yet again, even though it's in the form of cynical product placement. Wilson, who has always been on the verge of melancholy with his characters, has never seemed more tired. Vaughn, while still able to get those words out in the same rapid-fire delivery, is also straining at the speed of the dialogue.
We see the same thing with our action stars, though their attempts at recapturing their former glory can be enhanced both medically and with computers. With comedy, it's almost impossible to retread old ground with the same set-ups and deliveries. These are two people who would be better off exploring new venues as they age, not trying to recreate the R-rated comedic glory of nearly a decade ago.
Director Shawn Levy announces this sad retread right off. Billy (Vaughn) is quipping away at his partner Nick (Wilson) as they are speeding off in their car to a business deal. We hear them before we see them, but it's no surprise that they're in a pretty nice car - over the years we've gotten used to Vaughn zipping out dialogue in good vehicles since he made his splash in Swingers years ago. Wilson too, the quiet reassuring voice, there in the passenger seat. The scene would be a nice throwback if the banter was as funny as it used to be, but debating the merits of Alanis Morissette's "Ironic" just doesn't have the comedic punch of "Vegas, baby, Vegas."
The two find out at their business deal that the watch company they work for has gone under and, in one of the first cameos to try and liven up the film, their boss Sammy (John Goodman) cuts them loose. In separate fits of desperation, Nick goes to work for his sister's boyfriend (feature a more desperate cameo from Will Ferrell) and Billy finds them an opportunity for an opportunity to work at Google. So off they go for comedic shenanigans, fulfilling the role of differently thinking oldsters to the other outcast youngins that form their team to compete for the internships.
Most of the comedy and framing involves Billy and Nick pushing against these newfangled technologies and the generation who embraces them. Levy is not a stylistic genius, but nearly the entire film is framed with Billy and Nick on the left and whoever they are in opposition to at that moment on the right. This would be fine if not for two things - the first that this happens even when it makes no visual sense, like if Billy and Nick are flanking someone on both sides. The second is that this opposition constantly takes the focus off of the visuals and on the script, which recycles the same "Old people don't understand tech" jokes and some poor attempts at commenting on Generation X and Millennials.
The Internship isn't very funny before these stabs at commentary, but afterward it grinds to a complete halt. Both the young and old have moments where they talk about how the America they were promised isn't the one that they are prepared for. These moments aren't for comedy, exactly, but to try and give more weight to the competition. But they ring completely hollow when we see that Billy is far from being in the financial pits with the quality merchandise that lines his huge home, and the young ones aren't hurting for cash when they are able to compete for internships with no signs of financial stress. I'm sure there are plenty of people that would love to have their "hardship" when it consists of playing Quidditch.
For all the jokes at the expense of geek culture and privilege, it's unfortunate that the film embodies some of the worst aspects of it when it comes to gender. The women in Billy and Nick's lives aren't even given names, and are onscreen just long enough to push them along and then promptly fade away. Worse is the way Nick's love interest is portrayed - a business-minded woman who comments ironically on his good looks and charm only to forgo all of her aspirations and violate the no dating clause to kiss him. Somehow worse than that is the sole woman of their competition group, who embraces all the sexist aspects of geek culture (her fantasy involves her slave Leia outfit and chains) only to show that she was playing along and doesn't know anything about that stuff. But she turns around and still embraces it, at a strip-club no less.
So what we're left with is a comedy spinning its wheels with old actors who peaked at this kind of delivery a decade ago, in a film that is stylistically flat, with a script that takes odd detours with no ends, and sexism galore. They used to revel in excess, now they circle around it wearily searching for commentary, only to back away from having anything to say. No matter all these problems it's still a comedy without laughs where even a chuckle could have provided a cushion for all the other problems.
Directed by Shawn Levy.
Screenplay written by Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern.
Starring Vaughn and Owen Wilson.