Google’s famous mantra is "Do no evil." But it's hard not to detect whiffs of villainy from the search engine-turned-multimedia ecosystem in The Internship, a creaky comedy starring Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn that is basically a craven infomercial for the company. The message of the movie — "Google's a cool place to work, you guys!" — is conveyed lovingly by director Shawn Levy's choice to show all the perks of employment there (like free food and coffee, nap pods, and employees who look like Rose Byrne and are as stuffily funny as Aasif Mandvi), and makes the script feel like it was written by Google's Director of Corporate Communications in 2005, when the company's awesomeness was still a novelty. You can't help but feel that there's something if not evil then homogenizingly bland about a company that promotes itself via a movie featuring a totally neutered Vaughn and Wilson doing a PG-13 version of their Wedding Crashers shtick. A shtick that we also loved… in 2005.
Wilson and Vaughn play watch salesmen — truly the last of their breed and begging for an Albert Maysles documentary — who find out their company has gone bust. While Wilson's Nick takes another dead-end job selling mattresses for a Sanskrit-tattooed Will Ferrell, Vaughn's Billy searches for jobs for people "with few skills," and settles upon applying for an internship at Google for the two of them. They interview for the gig with a typically smug B.J. Novak via a Google Hangout — of course! — and get the gig.
They pair is given a misfit team of outcasts 20 years their junior to compete in several challenges during their summer-long internship: a home-schooled momma's boy (Tobit Raphael), a lethargic hipster (Dylan O'Brien), and a Comic-Con geek (Tiya Sircar). Together, they have to tackle projects like "finding a bug in a computer program," "manning the phones at Google technical support," and oddly enough, a Quidditch match. Admittedly, it's better than any of the Quidditch matches we ever saw in the Harry Potter movies — I don’t recall Daniel Radcliffe, like Vaughn, motivating his team via an extended Flashdance metaphor.
Of course, it would have been better if said Flashdance metaphor hadn't been featured in its entirety in the trailer, but so were all the best jokes in The Internship (including a scene in which Wilson and Vaughn's teammates tell them to track down Professor Charles Xavier for a challenge, and, cluelessly, the two buds have no idea they’re being played with an X-Men reference). Nothing explains why Wilson and Vaughn are unfamiliar with X-Men and Harry Potter while they are apparently aware of Katniss Everdeen based on Wilson's joke early in the movie that the Google internship is like "mental Hunger Games."
Wilson and Vaughn's unschooled fratitude is meant to be inspiring to their confidence-challenged teammates. Which means, not unexpectedly, that they take them to a strip club, get them lap dances, and get them soused. That strip club detour even helps them win one of their challenges, a plot contrivance that highlights one of the biggest flaws in the shiny corporate cosmology Google so eagerly wants to convey: we don't ever get a sense what it is that employees at Google actually do. Rose Byrne's job description seems to require her to wear glasses, pin her hair up, and walk around fetchingly, but little else. Aasif Mandvi projects an air of Argyle-sweatered by-the-bookness, but little else. Josh Gad listens to headphones while staring into a computer screen…but little else. Google may not come across as evil in The Internship. It does come across as boring, though, something the search engine empire has never been. This wasn't the commercial Google was looking for.
What do you think? Tell Christian Blauvelt directly on Twitter @Ctblauvelt and read more of his reviews on Rotten Tomatoes !
More:New 'Internship' Clips 'The Internship' Trailer Vince Vaughn and Will Ferrell in 'Daddy’s Home'
From Our PartnersStars Pose Naked for 'Allure' (Celebuzz)Which Game of Thrones Actor Looks Least Like His Character? (Vulture)
I came to Friends With Benefits with the hope that writer-director Will Gluck would take aim at the romantic comedy with the same piquant mischievous zeal he displayed in 2010’s Easy A a film that earned him comparisons to such hallowed figures as Alexander Payne and John Hughes. And he does—for a while at least. The film springs from the gate with a fun revisionist élan promising to lay waste to the stale conventions that have long characterized the genre. A promise that in the end is sadly unfulfilled.
Attractive twentysomethings Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) first meet as business associates—he’s a savvy web designer she’s a spunky headhunter who lures him to New York to work for GQ. Both happen to be recovering from nasty breakups (he was dumped by a Jon Mayer obsessive played by Emma Stone; her by a cloying slacker played by Andy Samberg) and they bond over their shared exasperation with relationships and romance.
One night wallowing in their mutual malaise over beer and pizza and an insipid rom-com (a fictitious film-within-a-film featuring uncredited Jason Segel and Rashida Jones) they hit on an idea: Why not use each other to sate our primal urges without all the hassles and complications that committed relationships entail? (That this is the first time either has pondered cohabitation strikes me as a bit disingenuous: Both rank among the upper-percentile of desirable people; surely the notion might have at least briefly occurred to them before?)
The pack is formalized by an oath sworn over a iPad bible app (the film is gratuitously tech-chic to the point of employing flash mobs as plot devices) and consummated in one of the film’s funniest scenes. Freed from any pretensions of romance and from any fears of embarrassment or rejection they approach the act from the perspective of two people seeking only to maximize their enjoyment. (He encourages her to look at it as a game of tennis.) They calmly recite their preferences idiosyncrasies and deal-breakers like agents negotiating a contract; during the deed they critique each others’ performance with utter candor offering helpful guidance when it’s called for. (She shows particular disdain for a technique called “The Tornado.”)
They’re hanging out they’re having sex; the only thing missing obviously is intimacy. It’s inevitable—at least in the peculiar moral universe inhabited by studio rom-coms—that one or both of them will come to crave it. And that’s when complications arise both for Dylan and Jamie and for the filmmakers. Faced with two roads Gluck opts to take the more-traveled one and Friends With Benefits gradually—and disappointingly—yields to convention affirming many of the rom-com tropes and clichés it initially seemed intent on skewering.
That the film is funny—wry and quick and (at least initially) irreverent—helps alleviate the let-down of its second-half surrender to formula. Kunis and Timberlake make for able verbal sparring partners their chemistry is real and their interplay natural and unforced. Accustomed to smaller roles and guest-hosting spots on SNL Timberlake acquits himself nicely in Friends With Benefits even if he at times appears outmatched by Kunis. I’m not quite prepared to forgive him for The Love Guru but I’m getting there.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Proving that everything “old” can be new again 17 Again opens in 1989 where star basketball player Mike O’Donnell turns his back on a college scholarship deciding instead to marry his girlfriend Scarlet when she reveals they are suddenly expecting a baby. Cut to 20 years later Mike’s marriage and job are floundering when he is physically transformed back into his 17-year-old self although his mind and sensibilities still remain that of a decidedly square thirtysomething dude. With the help of his nerdy-turned-billionaire best childhood buddy Ned he gets himself enrolled in the same school his own teenage kids now attend. Can he help them avert the same kinds of mistakes now that he (sorta) has a second chance to change?
WHO’S IN IT?
Zac Efron (High School Musical) shoots and scores in a breakout starring role. He shows he’s got the comic chops to believably pull off the way-out-there premise of being a 37-year-old trapped in a 17-year-old’s body. Matthew Perry (Friends) does a nice job bookending the movie as the older Mike but it’s Efron’s show all the way. Thomas Lennon follows up his hilarious supporting antics as the spurned man-date in I Love You Man with some equally amusing work as Mike’s friend Ned while Leslie Mann plays the estranged wife in style. As Mike’s kids who unknowingly become high school buds with their own father newcomer Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg get enough screen time to shine. Melora Hardin (The Office) is also quite funny as the school principal that lovelorn Ned keeps stalking.
Although the premise of the adult/kid switcheroo has been done to death director Burr Steers and writer Jason Filardi take it one step further a la It's a Wonderful Life or Damn Yankees by letting their main character regain his youth for the chance to see what his life would be like if he could live it another way. This fanciful premise makes this “teen” comedy one that adults will probably enjoy even more.
The filmmakers sometimes have a tendency to go over the top particularly in the "Star Wars fight sequence" when the newly transformed Mike confronts old friend Ned with the news and a laser battle erupts (!). Another scene where 17-year-old Mike is seduced by his own unwitting daughter may be funny but it veers a little too far into creepy territory.
DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?
If you like 17 Again try renting 18 Again in which 81-year-old George Burns switches places with his grandson. Or how about Big Vice Versa Like Father Like Son or either version of Freaky Friday? And who said there are no original ideas in Hollywood ...
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
A no-brainer — the "Zac Pack" will be out in force on opening day.