Who knows why it took eight years to team Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson in another movie. Their 2005 Wedding Crashers was a huge hit, and one would have expected a speedy follow-up. On the evidence of their new film, The Internship, they might have waited too long. There are flashes of the stars’ mad comic chemistry, but it can’t upend the picture’s bland amiability. While Wedding Crashers, which was rated R, reveled in good-natured raunch, The Internship is solidly PG-13 -- apart from an ill-considered strip-club sequence (with no actual stripping depicted), and an oddly salacious turn by Will Ferrell (who provided a similar cameo in Wedding Crashers), there’s no sexy in sight. Wedding Crashers had a heart, too, but it didn’t swallow up the whole movie; The Internship wears its heart on its forehead.
The movie is a strange undertaking. Vaughn came up with the story (and co-wrote the script), and he has set the action in Silicon Valley, at the world headquarters of Google. This might seem like the most egregious instance of product placement since Cast Away, that ode to FedEx; but really, how much cross-promotional corporate advertising could Google really need at this point? I suspect Vaughn felt that Google was simply the most useful setting for the story.
In Wedding Crashers, Vaughn and Wilson were a pair of party guys who were getting a little too old for the youthful shenanigans on which they had always thrived. Here, in their early 40s, they’re portrayed as completely over the hill and clueless about the modern world. Their characters, Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson), are out-of-work watch salesmen. (The timepiece they had been hawking is pointedly called Chronoshock.) At loose ends, but unconquerably optimistic, they apply for a summer internship program at Google. Although they know virtually nothing about digital technology, the company decides to give them a shot for reasons of “diversity.”
The Google headquarters presented here is a smile-infested playground for overage children, replete with volleyball courts, Quidditch matches, and a cafeteria where everything is free. Naturally, all the other internship candidates on hand are 20-something tech-heads with underdeveloped social skills. To them, Billy and Nick are pathetic old men, and the head of the intern program, a character named Chetty (the splendidly supercilious Aasif Mandvi), quickly sizes them up as losers. But Billy and Nick have real-world skills that -- as you know in your bones -- will come in handy.
The herd of would-be interns is divided into teams, all of which must undertake a series of “challenges” to winnow out the least worthy. Billy and Nick find themselves allied with a group of hopeless dorks: the blitheringly uncool Lile (a lively Josh Brener), emotionally repressed Stu (Dylan O’Brien), mom-dominated Yo-Yo (Tophit Raphael), and superficially cheery Neha (Tiya Sircar), a girl who has sadly never had a date. Arrayed around this crew are a snotty Brit named Graham (Max Minghella); a sweet, chubby nerd named Zach (Harvey Guillen); and a mysterious computer hermit known only as “Headphones” (Josh Gad).
The challenges proceed, and Vaughn, mainly, has fun with some of them. Billy baffles his young teammates with a motivational speech improbably modeled on the plot of Flashdance. (“Can’t we all be that little welder girl?”) And when they’re challenged to create an app, he comes up with an exciting idea for sharing photos online (or “on the line,” as he puts it) that, rather famously, already exists.
Try as they might, though, there’s not enough improvisational leeway in this picture to allow Vaughn and Wilson to really fly. And some of the implausibilities that clutter the story are insurmountable. The side trip to the strip club -- where Billy and Nick hope to Bond their new pals into a real team -- makes very little sense and goes on too long. (And when Lyle meets one of his instructors at this club, moonlighting as a stripper to supplement her income, we wonder how low Google wages could really be.) There’s also a plotline that has goofball Nick setting his romantic sights on a brainy Google beauty (Rose Byrne), and winning her over with the greatest of ease, which is overwhelmingly unbelievable.
The movie has some laughs -- it’s a professionally wrought piece of comedy product -- and it’s entirely likable. But the plot is a by-the-numbers exercise, and director Shawn Levy (who did the Night at the Museum films) is content to play it that way. Vaughn and Wilson deserve better material than this -- and they shouldn’t wait another eight years to find some.
Much Ado About Nothing
In times to come, Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing may prove a godsend to bored high-school students drowsing their way through the works of William Shakespeare. Filmed in 12 days during a break in the production of Whedon’s box-office monster The Avengers, this version of the venerable farce has a light, homemade feel. (It was actually shot in Whedon’s Santa Monica home, an ultra-swell residence designed by the director’s architect wife, Kai Cole.) The setting is contemporary -- there are cocktails and clever pop tunes (co-written by Whedon), and the characters all wear everyday suits and dresses. And while the dialogue is straight Shakespeare (“His gift is in devising impossible slanders”), almost all of the lead actors are veterans of Whedon’s celebrated film and TV projects, and their warm familiarity draws us into the proceedings with surprising ease.
The story, for those who, like me, drowsed a bit back in the day, is a tale of love and duplicity and wittily missed connections. The aristocratic Leonato, governor of Messina (Clark Gregg -- Agent Coulson in The Avengers), has welcomed to his estate the Prince of Aragon, Don Pedro (Reed Diamond, of Dollhouse) and his two friends Claudio (Fran Kranz, also a Dollhouse alumnus) and Benedick (Alexis Denisoff, of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). Claudio is immediately smitten by Leonato’s lovely daughter Hero (Jillian Morgese), and determines to ask her father for the girl’s hand in marriage. Benedick, a footloose lothario, counsels against this -- who would want to subordinate his life to any woman? Demonstrating his resistance to the idea, he carries on a small war of wisecracks with Leonato’s niece, the beautiful Beatrice (Amy Acker, of Angel, Dollhouse, and The Cabin in the Woods). But despite Beatrice’s tart tongue (“I would rather hear my dog bark at a crow than a man swear he loves me”), she secretly does fancy Benedick. And his resistance notwithstanding (“Being no other but as she is, I do not like her”), he comes to feel much the same way about her.
Bringing requisite complication to all of this is the dastardly Don John (Sean Maher, of Firefly), Pedro’s illegitimate brother, who seeks to foil Claudio’s wedding plan by spreading vile lies about Hero’s non-existent infidelity. John’s scheme eventually draws the attention of local lawman Dogberry (Nathan Fillion, of Firefly and Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog), and…so forth.
Shakespeare’s dialogue is of course pungent and funny, and the actors deliver it with carefully considered clarity. (Spotting Hero at one point, Pedro tells Leonato, “I think this is your daughter.” To which Leonato replies, “Her mother hath many times told me so.”) Gregg is a master of effortless charm, Maher is eminently hissable, and Fillion -- very funny here -- remains the most lovable of big lugs (and possibly the first Shakespearean character ever to don shades).
Whedon has shot the film in creamy black-and-white, which precludes the sort of colorful processional clichés that sometimes attend film versions of Great Classics. And his conviction that a 400-year-old play can be as much fun as any of the pop-culture projects with which he’s more commonly associated seems entirely validated. The fancy language may still be a problem for some viewers -- and keeping track of all the characters could be a challenge -- but even lifelong skeptics might want to give this movie a try. It definitely won’t put you to sleep.
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