Here’s why Google is one of the most successful businesses on the planet: It’s figured out a way for Twentieth Century Fox to make a two-hour Google commercial disguised as a summer comedy. The title is “The Internship,” and it’s nominally a vehicle for Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. But make no mistake: Every frame of this film testifies to the hipster chic of the world’s largest Internet company. The free food, the sunny San Francisco campus, the multicolored bicycles, and multi-culti army of employees — this is the real revenge of the nerds. It makes what FedEx did in “Cast Away” look like a 30-second spot for a local furniture warehouse.
How’s the movie as a movie? Obvious, predictable, dopey, sentimental — and pretty entertaining, for all that. Vaughn and Wilson play Billy and Nick, two appliance salesmen who lose their longtime gig when boss John Goodman closes shop. Having never bothered to grow up, they’re middle-aged boys without a paycheck — more chum for the economic downturn.
Fast-talking Billy gets them into a summer internship program at Google, a geek boot camp from which one team among dozens will emerge with full-time employment. The gag of “The Internship,” alternately labored and inspired, is that our heroes are clueless oldsters in a crew of wired young misfits: a cynical iPhone addict (Dylan O’Brien), an anime freak (Tiya Sircar), a quivering Asian kid (Tobit Raphael) browbeaten by his Tiger Mom. The team leader, Lile (Josh Brener), is a jive-talking dweeb with a crush on a local stripper (Jessica Szohr). OK, she’s a nice PG-13 stripper who doesn’t actually take her clothes off.
Aasif Mandvi plays the glowering head of the internship program, and delicate Rose Byrne is on hand as the workaholic lonelyhearts Wilson’s Nick sets out to woo. Max Minghella is the smarmy British kid certain his team will win. All these characters seem like results of a Hollywood screenwriting algorithm — pure code — and, really, “The Internship” is just a familiar box with new wrapping, and inside the box is Vaughn and Wilson’s standard buddy-act: the motormouth and the dude. If you’ve seen the old Rodney Dangerfield comedy “Back to School,” you’ve seen this movie. But the filmmakers are betting you haven’t.
Because Vaughn co-wrote the script (with Jared Stern), he gives himself some choice patter — it’s more his show than Wilson’s, and the latter doesn’t seem to mind. Both men know they’re starting to get a little too old for this, and that’s partly what the story’s about: how to make peace with a generation that doesn’t get your “Flashdance” references.
“The Internship” is very much a mixed bag, alternating scenes so formulaic they’re offensive (the guys take the team to a strip club! the uptight Asian kid gets drunk and turns into a party animal!) and sharp little riffs on “out-of-the-box” Silicon Valley thinking, like a Quidditch match that’s like a rugby scrum for computer science majors. Shawn Levy directs with the bland efficiency you’d expect from the man who gave us “Cheaper by the Dozen” and “Night at the Museum,” but it’s worth throwing a little love to editor Dean Zimmerman, whose brisk cross-cutting gives Vaughn’s rants a comic momentum the movie sorely needs.
In all, “The Internship” is the kind of Hollywood formula product that proves why the formula’s so hard to kill: It’s simultaneously easy to like and impossible to respect. The final scenes, though, represent a near-total embarrassment of branding: The characters promise small businessmen the world at the click of a mouse, Mandvi’s character delivers a rousing corporate stump speech about connectiveness and people and stuff, and the movie turns into a big happy ball of Google-love.
“The Internship” is some kind of landmark: The first film that’s 100 percent product placement.Ty Burr can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @tyburr.