GEEK TRICKS

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Film -

BACK in the days when com­put­ers were as big as fridges and adorned with whirring spools of tape, Peter Usti­nov starred in an ami­able com­edy called Hot Mil­lions, about a busi­ness­man who makes a for­tune through com­puter fraud. I re­mem­ber it as the first film in which com­put­ers, hith­erto a ma­lign pres­ence in space thrillers and disas­ter movies, were used for comic pur­poses.

There have been other movie land­marks in the cyber story. You’ve Got Mail was a Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan ro­mance in which emails — still some­thing of a nov­elty in 1998 — played a key role in the story. With The So­cial Net­work, filmgoers were given their first in­sight into the be­gin­nings of Face­book and its pi­o­neer­ing en­tre­pre­neur Mark Zucker­berg.

Now we have Shawn Levy’s com­edy The In­tern­ship, about two bud­dies — Owen Wil­son and Vince Vaughn — who wan­gle tem­po­rary jobs at Google, the in­ter­net search engine based in Sil­i­con Val­ley.

Surely it won’t be long be­fore Jerry Bruck­heimer comes up with a 3-D sum­mer block­buster about the rise of Twit­ter fea­tur­ing a cou­ple of my favourite ac­tion stars, Den­zel Wash­ing­ton and Pene­lope Cruz.

Much of The In­tern­ship is set in Google’s head­quar­ters in Moun­tain View, Cal­i­for­nia, on the out­skirts of San Fran­cisco, and the place looks like a kind of hi-tech fun fair, tricked out with gad­gets and glow­ing colours. Those want­ing to de­scend from the mez­za­nine level to the ground floor can make use of a slip­pery dip; those want­ing mo­ments of quiet re­flec­tion can re­tire to a nap pod, a lit­tle space-age cap­sule where rest and pri­vacy are guar­an­teed. Food and drink are dis­pensed free to Google work­ers in the foyer. It looks like a great place to work. And the com­pe­ti­tion for jobs is in­tense. Ev­ery year, it seems, hun­dreds of col­lege grad­u­ates with de­grees in physics and math­e­mat­ics com­pete for a hand­ful of in­tern­ships. You wouldn’t put money on Wil­son and Vaughn crack­ing the prize, but some­how — with a mix­ture of bluff, blus­ter and bull­shit­ting skills — they make the grade.

Levy’s film has been de­scribed, not un­fairly, as a two-hour Google com­mer­cial. Firms that once paid good money for a five-sec­ond prod­uct place­ment in the lat­est Bond movie are bound to feel hard done by. (You won­der if Ap­ple had to pay for the brief glimpses we get of iPads and iPhones in The In­tern­ship, but I doubt it.) None of this would bother me if The In­tern­ship were re­ally a film about Google. I could have done with some pass­ing in­sights into the com­pany’s in­ner work­ings, its fact­s­e­lec­tion meth­ods, its fil­ter­ing and check­ing pro­cesses, not to men­tion the ac­tiv­i­ties of its chief ex­ec­u­tive and co-founder, Larry Page. But Google’s HQ is no more than a colour­ful back­drop for the film’s rather flimsy story.

When we first meet Billy (Vaughn) and Nick (Wil­son) they have been do­ing it tough as watch sales­men. Among mem­bers of the cyber gen­er­a­tion, it seems, no one wears wrist­watches any more — a fact eas­ily proved when their boss (John Good­man) asks a young of­fice em­ployee for the time and she im­me­di­ately con­sults her phone. When Billy has the idea of seek­ing in­tern­ships at Google, the boys re­alise their un­doubted tal­ent for sell­ing goods can be used just as ef­fec­tively to sell them­selves. Duly en­rolled as on­line stu­dents at the Univer­sity of Phoenix (ma­jor­ing in physics), they turn up for the Google se­lec­tion process and im­me­di­ately arouse the sus­pi­cions of their su­per­vi­sor, the for­mi­da­ble Mr Chetty (Aasif Mandvi). To qual­ify as in­terns they have to pass a se­ries of tests — we­b­cam in­ter­views, de­sign­ing a new phone app, han­dling a Google help line and sign­ing up at least one new client to ad­ver­tise on Google.

The screen­play (by Vaughn and Jared Stern) is re­lent­lessly fast-paced and spiced with some fine one-lin­ers. I’ve al­ways thought Vaughn and Wil­son two of the best nat­u­ral co­me­di­ans in the busi­ness and they don’t dis­ap­point. Wil­son’s air of in­no­cent daffi­ness was well dis­played in Midnight in Paris, the most charm­ing of Woody Allen’s re­cent films; and Levy’s film proves to be an ex­cel­lent ve­hi­cle for Vaughn’s plau­si­ble blus­ter. At an­other level the film works as a fish-out-ofwa­ter com­edy. Billy and Nick are twice the age of their ri­val hope­fuls, prompt­ing one to ob­serve, ‘‘ You’re so old.’’ In­ter-gen­er­a­tional ten­sion is part of the joke as well. One young­ster com­plains to Billy that kids can’t get jobs any more — that the ‘‘ Amer­i­can dream is over’’. Is Levy push­ing a po­lit­i­cal mes­sage here? In the spirit of the movie I googled ‘‘ youth em­ploy­ment US’’ and dis­cov­ered that in Fe­bru­ary this year about 3.5 mil­lion young Amer­i­cans were out of work — an un­em­ploy­ment rate of 16.3 per cent, com­pared with about 50 per cent in parts of Europe. (Is this rel­e­vant to the film? Prob­a­bly not, but it shows how use­ful Google can be.)

With their nat­u­ral savvy and pow­er­ful in­stincts for sur­vival, Billy and Nick soon start mas­ter­ing the in­ner mysteries of the cy­ber­world (or at least giv­ing a good im­pres­sion of do­ing so). Their new app de­sign proves a win­ner (10 times as many down­loads as their clos­est com­peti­tor), and there’s a funny scene in which Billy de­liv­ers a lit­tle lec­ture, re­peat­edly say­ing ‘‘ on the line’’ when he means on­line. It’s brought off in nicely dead­pan style. His au­di­ence of young, am­bi­tious geeks looks suit­ably be­mused. There are times when The In­tern­ship plays like a high-school com­edy.

But noth­ing ever hangs to­gether. Rose Byrne pro­vides a brief ro­man­tic diver­sion as Dana, a bright young Google exec to whom Nick takes a fancy. Dana, iden­ti­fied as an Aus­tralian, is al­ways hur­ry­ing off to a meet­ing and uses the dinkum Aussie ex­pres­sion ‘‘ chee­rio’’, which I haven’t heard for 30 years or more. (I must google it some­time.)

All that said, I en­joyed The In­tern­ship. It has en­ergy and wit and an unflagging sense of fun. Googling ‘‘ Shawn Levy’’, I was re­minded that he di­rected kids’ fan­tasy Night at the Mu­seum and its se­quel. A third in­stal­ment, di­rected by Levy, is due for the re­lease next year. I’ll be sur­prised if there’s a se­quel to The In­tern­ship, but Google will be the first to tell me if there is.

Owen Wil­son and Vince Vaughn

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