Hope against Dope
By Carl Kozlowski
There seem to be two main schools of film comedies these days, and I’m not talking about romantic comedies and buddy-cop flicks. I mean comedies that are witty, urbane and rooted in likable human beings and relatable situations that can provide audiences with insight and laughs, and comedies that simply exist to shock, push the taste envelope and cater to the lowest common denominator and basest human urges.
The smart and classy kind of film seems to be losing the battle, represented mainly by indie art-house efforts and the annual Woody Allen offering. And while I can laugh heartily at a raunchy movie that also has smarts, ala There’s Something About Mary or the original Hangover, most of the R-rated comedies being produced these days seem to be racing to the bottom of the barrel.
These competing approaches are actually heading for a clash in theaters this week, as The Internship brings audiences solid laughs mixed with an impressively inspirational message for our challenging times. Meanwhile, This Is The End brings together some of Hollywood’s allegedly brightest young comic talents and proceeds to turn them into utter nitwits.
The Internship marks the return pairing of the two guys who have best walked the tightrope between high- and low-brow forms of comedy over the past 20 years: Vince Vaughn and Owen Wilson. Both teamed up to smashing results in 2005’s Wedding Crashers, scoring a $200 million blockbuster hit in the US alone, but have each suffered several flops individually over the ensuing years.
It’s great to see them together, slipping seamlessly back into action with a hilarious opening sing along to Alanis Morrisette’s “Ironic” as they cruise the streets of Atlanta. They are luxury-watch salesmen, believing that they are on top of the world until they abruptly learn from a customer that their boss has folded the company because the world has stopped wearing watches and started getting the time from their smartphones.
Desperate for work and terrified because they are over 40 with skills suited only for sales careers, Vaughn’s Billy signs himself and Wilson’s Nick up for an internship at Google, the real-world search engine that dominates the Internet and by extension, much of our modern lives. This time, they effectively crash its California campus, taking a reboot on their lives while competing for an extremely rare shot at a job at the high-tech giant.
Scoffed at by most of the other interns because they are old and distinctly not techno-geeks, Billy and Nick are forced onto a team of other social rejects. As they find their way in their thoroughly new environment, they teach their losers how to apply real-world common-sense and a sense of fun while engaging in bitter battle against a rival team of interns and the sternly disapproving internship supervisor.
Sure, this may sound cliché and predictable, and in some ways it is. At first, I was also annoyed by the blatant promotion the movie gives Google, including dialogue about how they’re trying to improve lives. But as the movie unfolded, Vaughn’s rich script (which he co-wrote with Jared Stern) kept finding strong and unexpected laughs in the details of its situations and character quirks, as well as in his patented machinegun patter. And besides, Google is something everyone uses anyway and doesn’t cost users a dime, so it’s easier to forgive than most any other product.
More than that, though, The Internship overcomes its occasional and minor annoyances by merit of it actually trying to be about something that matters and for respecting its audience’s intelligence while being entertaining. In a time of very slow recovery after a profoundly devastating recession, this movie could really inspire job seekers not to give up and to embrace change, not fear it. The real shame is that the people who need to see it most are least likely to be able to afford a night out at the movies. But if you know someone who could stand to have a little bit of Rocky in their own rocky lives, this is just the ticket.
On the other hand, This Is The End comes out Wednesday and is the polar opposite: A film that could have been terrific, but instead is mostly utter dreck. Written and directed by hot actor Seth Rogen with his Superbad co-writer Evan Goldberg, the movie brings together a quintet of rising comedy stars (Rogen, James Franco, Craig Robinson, Jay Baruchel and Danny McBride) and looks at what would happen if the real-life actors wound up trapped together in Franco’s house after the apocalypse suddenly engulfs Los Angeles.
Much like January’s disastrous release Movie 43, a comedy that brought together nearly 20 hot comedy stars into random offensive situations and proceeded to bomb, This Is The End will make viewers wonder why so many potentially clever comic minds insist on taking a big Hollywood budget and do utterly nothing worthwhile with it. I’m a fan of each of these actors in their often much-better projects, but when they are left to their own devices and allowed to do seemingly anything they want as a team—all on a $32 million budget—all they do is seem to show and discuss gross sex, drug and bodily function jokes.
Some of the audience I saw it with laughed loudly, but a pack mentality isn’t necessarily right. I’d much rather champion the clever comedy and hopeful beginnings found in then follow these spoiled-rotten young millionaires on this dead End journey.