Cast your mind back to 2005 for a second, when MySpace was the internet’s hottest website, Desperate Housewives was the most exciting new show on TV, and Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson were on top of the comedy world. The two actors had been running in the same circles (the so-called “Frat Pack” with Ben Stiller, Jack Black, and Luke Wilson) for years, and they had both appeared in 2004’s Starsky and Hutch. The distasteful and very funny Wedding Crashers was the first time they truly partnered each other, and their comic chemistry catapulted them into the ranks of America’s brightest comedy stars.
Then what happened? Among other things: Judd Apatow, Diablo Cody, Lena Dunham, Edgar Wright and Simon Pegg, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, Kristen Wiig, Lynn Shelton, and Mark Duplass. With all that going on, the Frat Pack fell off the pace, with only Will Ferrell remaining relevant as a comedy headliner. Even though Wilson headlined Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris, both he and Vaughn starred in enough depressing comedies to fill the $5 DVD bin at your supermarket: You, Me, and Dupree, Couples Retreat, Drillbit Taylor, The Dilemma, Hall Pass, and The Watch. So now that the 45-year-old Wilson and the 43-year-old Vaughn are reuniting for The Internship, they’re in the position of having to prove themselves all over again. Well, their current movie is an improvement on the bad comedies I listed above. Like most comebacks, though, this one falls well short of the duo’s glory days.
Respectively, Vaughn and Wilson portray Billy and Nick, two ace salesmen who are suddenly thrown out of work when their boss (John Goodman) shutters their company. While Nick’s content to take whatever job he can find, Billy dares to dream and nominates both himself and his best buddy for summer internships at Google. The bosses take them on without ever buying into their constant stream of crap, and Nick and Billy spend the season at the campus in Mountain View, Calif., competing as part of a team with three other interns half their age for a chance to land a permanent job at the tech giant.
Though the rapport between the lead actors remains smooth as ever, they’re effectively stranded here by their material. There’s not enough contrast between their characters, and the script by Vaughn and Jared Stern doesn’t make enough out of Nick and Billy’s midlife desire to stay relevant. The guys’ interview with Google higher-ups is a huge missed opportunity, devolving into so much babbling. Somehow Wedding Crashers avoided turning the similarity between the voluble stars into a liability. This movie isn’t as lucky.
The romantic subplot involving Nick and a pretty Google supervisor (a bespectacled and poorly served Rose Byrne) turns up nothing of value. The same goes for the fish-out-of-water concept — are we really supposed to believe that these older guys are so out of touch that they don’t understand the younger interns’ references to Harry Potter and the X-Men? A promising angle opens up in a scene when the other interns reveal that they’re just as desperate for a job as our heroes because brains, youth, and a college degree no longer guarantee anything in our economy. The movie leaves that frustratingly unpursued.
What interesting stuff there is here is to be found in the movie’s background. Sometimes this is literally true — the movie was filmed at Google’s actual headquarters, and the place looks like something a Hollywood set designer dreamed up while trying to imagine a cool corporate workplace, with sense-depriving relaxation chairs and a playground slide leading from the second floor to the lobby. In addition to the décor come tasty performances from Aasif Mandvi as a hardass intern coordinator, Josh Brener as the team’s inappropriately enthusiastic 23-year-old coach, Tirya Sircar as a fellow intern who talks a much better game sexually than she plays, and a bearded, whisper-voiced Josh Gad as a Google employee whose genius for coding is offset by his radioactive personality. One of the Frat Pack turns up in a nice uncredited cameo as Nick’s horrible boss at a mattress store.
Still, Vaughn and Wilson look undeniably past their best. It’s time for these Frat Packers to start looking for comedy partnerships outside their familiar circle. That will require more than an internet search engine.
Starring Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Directed by Shawn Levy. Written by Jared Stern and Vince Vaughn. Rated PG-13.