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.