Shawn Levy is in no danger of being branded an innovator. Look up “hack” in the dictionary and you’re likely to find a picture of him. Perhaps more than any major filmmaker (I suppose cranking out the Night at the Museum series technically places him in that league), Levy is drawn to doing what’s already been done.
Need an update of Cheaper by the Dozen (did we, really)? Levy’s your man (2003). He was happy to dishonor the memories of Blake Edwards and Peter Sellers with his remake of The Pink Panther (2006). So eight years after Wedding Crashers, who better to take everything we loved about that film, water it down and serve it up reconstituted into a couple of the unfunniest hours one could sit through this summer?
I wouldn’t have thought it possible to get Vince Vaughn, Owen Wilson and, for a few moments, Will Ferrell in one project and have it blow in so many ways. As in Wedding Crashers, Vaughn and Wilson play best friends who share a gift for rapid-fire, off-the-wall gab. Their Billy and Nick work as salesmen for a high-end watch company — until a prospective client breaks the news that their business has folded.
The pair doesn’t have incomes and has yet to notice this minor development. Improbably, the movie’s setup — which Levy takes way too long to establish — only gets more preposterous from there. Billy and Nick pay a visit to their boss (the suddenly ubiquitous John Goodman) seeking an explanation, only to learn that, much like fortysomething salesmen, the watch has become obsolete (really?). He tells them people no longer use watches to check the time, but their smartphones. As proof, Goodman asks his seventysomething secretary for the time; she checks her smartphone. By the standards of The Internship, this is a gut-busting gag.
Anyway, 30 or 40 minutes in, the action moves to the Bay Area headquarters of Google, and the movie finally gets around to beginning. Billy and Nick embark on a quixotic quest to reboot their careers by taking part in a competitive internship program that will earn a lucky few jobs with the Silicon Valley giant. The joke, of course, is that they’re twice as old and not half as tech-smart as their nerdy rivals. Vaughn, cowriting with Jared Stern (The Watch), milks that joke for the duration of the film with ever-diminishing returns.
Billy, for example, says “on the line” instead of “online.” Neither of the pair is up on Millennial pop-culture references. We’re supposed to LOL when they’re unfamiliar with the X-Men franchise. Writing code? Forget about it. When asked why he listed C++ on his application, Vaughn’s character makes a lame joke about getting a C+ in a test once and being so excited about it, he added an extra plus sign.
One of the weirdest things about the film, in fact, is its puzzlingly upbeat tone. The guys the two played in Crashers were fun loving, but Billy and Nick present as happy idiots. The harsh realities of today’s economy — ostensibly the picture’s subtext — can’t wipe the smiles off their faces, even when jobs vaporize, girlfriends bail and homes go into foreclosure. After a while, their positivity actually began to creep me out. They’re like Stepford bros.
What Levy offers, as usual, is fundamentally a remix of better fare. Judd Apatow’s riff on the company culture at MySpace in Funny People is funnier than anything here, and everything there is to say about starting over in midstream was said with more humanity — and humor — by John Wells in his 2010 film The Company Men. The latter makes for a far more entertaining take on our economically challenged times. It may just be the best movie on the subject you’ve never heard of.
I guess you can always google it.
* Running time: 119 min.
* Rated: PG-13