Most movies sell some sort of fantasy: True love is real; good always triumphs over evil; all dogs go to heaven. But few peddle so many as The Internship, which reunites Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson for the first time since their 2005 hit Wedding Crashers. Like Larry Crowne, The Internship is a comedy that means to tackle America's seemingly never-ending financial slowdown, but it goes about its business in such an unrealistic manner that its hopeful message gets drowned out in the feel-good nonsense. Where Wedding Crashers was naughty yet sweet, this new movie is pseudo-edgy and safe. It's like watching two aging fraternity brothers try to convince each other that they haven't lost a step since college.
The movie, directed by Shawn Levy (Date Night, the Night at the Museum movies), concerns Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson), successful salesmen and best friends who have hawked everything from blenders to watches in their day. Unfortunately, their boss (John Goodman) has decided to fold the company, recognizing that in an automated, computerized world, salesmen really aren't necessary anymore. (I'm not sure if that's actually true in the real world, but as with a lot of things in The Internship, we're asked to accept this at face value and just move on.)
In desperate need of a job, Billy and Nick talk their way into an internship at Google, where they will compete against a flock of recent college graduates for only a handful of jobs at the lucrative company. Because the filmmakers worked closely with Google—the company's logo is everywhere—The Internship doesn't question corporate culture or Google's self-satisfied image as a "good" company amidst a sea of "evil" companies. It's but one of several signs that this Wedding Crashers reunion, which in tone wants to seem as "outrageous" as that earlier film, really doesn't have its heart into being a rabble-rouser.
Vaughn produced and co-wrote the film—he also is credited with the original story—and the movie is a pretty standard representation of what he does in movies now. You will not be surprised to learn that Billy is a loudmouthed, overgrown manchild, although, to Vaughn's credit, he seems to understand that the character is kind of a jerk, allowing Wilson to have the lion's share of sweet and charming moments. (As in Wedding Crashers, Wilson gets to woo a lovely lass: Rose Byrne, in this case, playing a workaholic Google employee who by the numbers falls for Nick's puppy-dog adorableness.)
The Internship plugs these two guys into roles they've done plenty of times before, and there is something undeniably appealing about them together onscreen. Wilson seems to genuinely enjoy Vaughn's overbearing-but-lovable shtick, while Vaughn seems softer and more tolerable by hanging around Wilson's inherent niceness. If the movie was just the two guys hanging out, The Internship might have been enjoyable. But Vaughn has put them into a really creaky underdog tale that's part Animal House, part Revenge of the Nerds, and a large part "Homer Goes to College"—The Simpsons episode where Homer has to hang out with a bunch of smart, nerdy college kids and teaches them how to have some fun. That setup makes The Internship sound like a raucous comedy, but unlike Wedding Crashers, which was rated R, this PG-13 offering is actually pretty tame, no matter how many "shit"s the characters get away with saying. As a director, Levy is too much of a family-friendly guy to really be transgressive—sticky, homogenized inoffensiveness coats the movie—and so whatever kind of "danger" Vaughn brings to the film is quickly neutered.
As for the Google setting and downsized-America topicality, the movie actually takes it seriously, hoping it'll give the movie some emotional resonance. But according to The Internship, Billy and Nick are meant to represent all of us, the aging workers scared about an uncertain future in which we'll be replaced by brainiac millennials who are too busy on their iPhones to, like, experience life, man, and get laid.
It's a sign of how little this movie thinks of the younger generation—or how much it sucks up to the older one—that the kids (an ultra-cynical Dylan O'Brien, a callous, ambitious Max Minghella) who work alongside Billy and Nick have to loosen up and realize how great these old fogeys are. A better comedy, last year's 21 Jump Street, had the courage to suggest that today's teens had evolved beyond the high-school bullying of earlier generations to accept other kids' differences. (The great joke of that film was that the cool students much preferred the sweet, smart Jonah Hill to Channing Tatum, the meathead jock.) By comparison, The Internship lives in a bubble, assuring people Vaughn's age that we've still got it. The country may have severe economic worries, and the middle class may be in big trouble because of a loss of blue-collar jobs, but, don't worry, we still know how to party and make awesome obscure references to '80s movies that these stupid kids don't even get. It's a nice thought, but it's not very convincing. Even worse, it's not all that funny.
Grierson & Leitch is a regular column about the movies. Follow us on Twitter, @griersonleitch.