Review: Even Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn can’t save the awful ‘Internship’

If you feel like cinema peaked with Ron Howard’s “Gung Ho,” then “The Internship” may be the film of the year for you.

Personally, I’m baffled by the whole thing. Does Google have actual money in the film? Did they co-produce it in some way? Because if not, I’d love to know why a major studio produced a feature-length infomercial for a tech company. Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn are in it, sure, but this is “Larry Crowne” with corporate sponsorship. This is the sort of thing you show all the interns on the first day of the program to get them all revved up. What it’s not is a film I would recommend to anyone, or a comedy that I would call funny in any way.

I was worn out by the end of the film simply from the full-body cringe of embarrassment that is “The Internship.” If this is what Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn were waiting on as a follow-up to “The Wedding Crashers,” that is tragic. This is the best piece of material the two of them have read since that film came out? This was the winner out of all the possible combinations of those two guys that you could have possibly come up with? I find that hard to believe, yet somehow, this is the film they ended up making together.

The film begins with the two of them playing fast-talking salesmen who sell high-end premium wristwatches to dealers. As they’re at dinner with a client, they get the bad news that their company is folding and they are out of work, instant dinosaurs in a world that demands skills neither of them have. There’s certainly potent material to be mined from this idea, but not the way the script by Vince Vaughn and Jared Stern handles it. From the very start, there is a war of tones going on in the film, broad laughs piled on top of attempts at sincerity and, of course, a near-reverence for all things Google, and it is a singularly unappealing combination.

I feel like Hollywood failed both Owen Wilson and Vince Vaughn, honestly. These guys shouldn’t be stuck in movies that feel like they were originally developed back when junk like “The Secret Of My Success” and “Twins” was considered the state of the art of studio comedy. They are both capable of way more than that, and when you cast them in something this artificial, this calculated, they don’t fit. There’s not a moment in this film where it feels like they’re playing actual characters. More than that, though, there’s no consistency in how they’re written. They are written as fools in one scene, sly and worldly in another, and at no point do they act like real human beings in this situation might act. The cast around them, including Rose Byrne, Aasif Mandvi, Max Minghella, Josh Brener, Tiya Sircar, Tobit Raphael, Dylan O’Brien, and Josh Gad, is called upon to make paper thin character sketches into walking talking characters. Gad, playing a character left over from the ’80s film “Real Genius,” is the only person who got a laugh out of me in the entire film, and it was once.

That’s not an exaggeration, either. I laughed one time in what felt like two full hours of motor-mouthed nonsense, and it wasn’t because of something either Wilson or Vaughn said. That’s not good. I actually sort of dug Shawn Levy’s last film, “Real Steel,” and while there were laughs in the film, it’s not a comedy. That’s the only one of his films I like, and it makes me think that I just plain don’t get what it is that makes Levy laugh. There are shapeless scenes, a sort of halfhearted staging to a lot of it, and more noise than anything else, and it makes me wonder if this really does represent what Levy thinks is actually funny.

It’s interesting to see how close this is to “Monsters University” in the broad strokes, with both films being built around a competition that determines their right to be where they are, and there’s no question… Pixar bests them, and without even trying. Everything about “Monsters” is thematically focused, and the character work plays with archetype while also giving the various characters enough detail and nuance to make them feel genuine. In “The Internship,” Wilson and Vaughn end up teamed with all of the leftovers from the intern program in a summer-long competition that will guarantee the winning team a place at the company.

Guess what happens. Go ahead. I’m not going to spoil it. You just take a wild stab at it and tell me if you think Wilson and Vaughn and their band of lovable misfits manages to pull it off.

If you’ve seen pretty much any movie ever, then you know exactly where this thing goes, and it is depressing watching it go through the motions. Or at least, it’s depressing when it’s not infuriating. There are entire scenes designed to show off some feature of the Google campus or some perk for the employees who work there, and every single one of those moments just rubbed me the wrong way. There was even a way to approach this that wouldn’t be insulting, a way that really examined how a company like Google is replacing entire fields, leaving people out of work even as they open up employment opportunities that have never existed before. The world is changing, and I’m not above seeing a film that reflects that honestly. But this is full of people earnestly saying things like, “Maybe I just believe that working here makes the world a better place for people every day.” It repeatedly underlines the idea of “Googliness,” an overall quality about people who work at the company, and at some point, it all started to feel so Jonestown/Body Snatchers creepy that I just rejected the whole film.

I can’t imagine people will enjoy this. I think it is as impersonal and artificial as mainstream comedy gets, and more than that, it feels like a pitch that no one really fleshed out beyond the logline they sold initially. I would urge you to try some of this weekend’s smaller releases, like the lovely “Frances Ha” or “The Kings Of Summer,” still rolling out in wide release, or even Joss Whedon’s slight but sweet take on “Much Ado About Nothing” before subjecting yourself to this. Even the most hardcore fans of Wilson and Vaughn are going to walk out feeling defeated, wondering if this is the best that Hollywood can do by these guys.

“The Internship” escapes tomorrow.