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Search for laughs falls short in 'The Internship' ★★

You might say "The Internship" is in the bag for Google, the fearsomely powerful search engine and commerce behemoth. But that doesn't quite convey the extent of the coziness. This film carries Google's water. It is, in fact, Google's little minion movie.

By the end of this occasionally funny (two scenes in particular; more later on those) re-teaming of Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson, eight years after "Wedding Crashers," the familiar, friendly Google logo — I'm no stranger to it; I just looked up the spelling of "behemoth" by Googling it — has been burned into your psyche forever. This isn't product placement; it's product brain imprint.

Times have changed since Vaughn and Wilson bedded all those women while getting in touch with their sensitive sides in "Wedding Crashers," a film belonging to a different economic period in our history. Today these guys are lucky to find a job, any job, let alone a bed, let alone someone to share it.

Early in "The Internship" high-end LA wristwatch salesmen Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wilson) find themselves out of work, learning of their company's demise from a longtime customer in the middle of a dinner meeting. The writing and staging in the scene in question is strangely awkward, enough to make you think: Whatever happened to the art of the expositional setup?

Nick is thrown a bone by his sleazy brother-in-law (an uncredited Will Ferrell as a mattress salesman) but clearly is meant for better things. Once Billy gets bounced from his longtime relationship, he gets busy finding the middle-aged, formerly dynamic duo's true calling. And then Nick and Billy video-conference their way into a summer internship at the world's greatest company.

Leaving LA for Silicon Valley and Google, it's a rough go at first. Our mid-40-somethings are treated as freaks and dinosaurs and lumbering wastes of time, especially by the story's evil adversary, Graham (Max Minghella), the Blue Meanie of weaselly interns. As Billy and Nick team up with a few fellow outcast interns, in a (fictional) competition to see which team wins the coveted full-time jobs at summer's end, they must prove their worth, their adaptability, their street smarts and their party-hearty skills. The latter's affirmed by a scene in which the boy-men chaperon their 20ish comrades on a lap-dance/strip-club excursion, leading to unmentionable sight gags and a general sense that the scene does not belong with anything else in "The Internship."

"This place is incredible!" Vaughn's character says, ogling the Google campus for the first time. There's a lot of that in "The Internship," as scripted by Vaughn and Jared Stern (of the infamously unfunny "The Watch"). Director Shawn Levy surely knew that the script at hand didn't warrant a full two-hour running time; even if you enjoy "The Internship," as my son did, it feels 20 minutes over-full at least. Cut out half of the "Flashdance" and "X-Men" references, and you're halfway there.

The casting helps. Aasif Mandvi does the trick as the intimidating internship program leader; Rose Byrne, given precious little to do, lightens the load as the Google staffer to whom Wilson's character takes a shine. Two scenes work well in "The Internship." In a first-date dinner sequence, Wilson and Byrne are allowed to loosen up, enjoy each other's screen company and give the audience a break from the main plotline's familiar machinations. This is followed by a nicely played encounter between Vaughn and Josh Gad (who starred on Broadway in "The Book of Mormon"), who plays a fellow intern. Here too the interplay relaxes, allowing us to get to know the folks for whom we're supposed to be rooting.

And then, before long, we're back to the film's primary objective: to treat the company at the story's center to another metaphoric lap dance.

mjphillips@tribune.com

'The Internship' -- 2 stars
MPAA rating:
PG-13 (for sexuality, some crude humor, partying and language)
Running time: 1:59
Opens: Friday

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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