Stop me if you've heard this one before: A couple of outcasts find themselves in a rigid social environment, surrounded by winners who sneer at them as losers. Most of these "losers" have given up even trying. Luckily, within their number there are a few "leaders" who teach the others that accepting the values of their tormentors, struggling to emulate them, is a futile strategy. It's better to upend the social order by showing the usefulness or moral/ethical superiority of their timid "loser" ways. In the process, they liberate themselves and everyone else, even their adversaries. The quality most often cited as the source of their power to win all the marbles is "heart."
If any of that sounds overfamiliar, you can safely skip "The Internship," which recycles these shopworn ideas and doesn't even do it well. The leader/losers this time around are Nick (Owen Wilson) and Billy (Vince Vaughn), master watch salesmen, whose boss (John Goodman) informs them that smartphones have made watches obsolete. The company is closing and they are being cast adrift, sans paddle.
Despite a total ignorance of technology — these guys appear to do their jobs without knowing how to turn a laptop on — the only hope they can find is to apply for an internship at Google, which might lead to a job. They are accepted (in the name of diversity) and hie themselves over to the Google complex/campus, which is designed like a giant day care center for adults, or perhaps the afterlife Peter Jackson imagined for "The Lovely Bones."
The serpent in this Eden is the insufferably snotty Graham (Max Minghella), who sadistically derides them in public at every opportunity. He is as moustache-twirlingly evil as Bradley Cooper's villain in "The Wedding Crashers," an earlier (and far superior) Vaughn/Wilson vehicle. Vaughn can be very likable on screen, but, when unchained, he can be insufferably irritating. Villains in his most unchained films have to be exaggerated in order to make him a preferable alternative.
I have a few friends who are as out of the cyberloop as these guys, but most of them are decades older than Wilson and Vaughn. Presumably the film's high want-to-see numbers would have been dampened somewhat by more believable casting for a couple of tech nitwits, like, say, Eli Wallach and Kirk Douglas. Having said that, the audience at my screening — with an average age of around 40 — appeared not to get a joke built on Billy's assumption that C++ referred to a grade, rather than a programming language.
An even bigger problem is — and I say this with some trepidation — making this kind of salesman heroic. In the opening scenes, it's clear that they believe in nothing beyond their ability to sell the proverbial refrigerators to Eskimos. Before they lose their jobs, we see them consulting their notes about a prospect's family so they can pretend to be "friends"; they're proud of being gladhanding, posterior-kissing phonies. Their role in life is neither productive nor necessary. They are the watch world's equivalent of those used car dealers to whom the sale is everything, even if it means bullying and taking advantage of people. The film embraces this value system wholeheartedly.
Speaking of most pernicious aspects of capitalism, among other things, "The Internship" is a two-hour — yes, you heard me, two-hour — commercial for Google.
There is the occasional amusing moment, which is more than one can usually hope for in a Shawn Levy movie. But what's most amusing is that Google is shown as (in essence) a socialist paradise internally, one that is made possible by the ruthless, faux sweet values embodied by its heroes.
ANDY KLEIN is the film critic for Marquee. He can also be heard on "FilmWeek" on KPCC-FM (89.3).