Silver Screen: Entourage *
The standard line on the HBO series Entourage was “It’s Sex and the City for dudes.”
That comparison turns out to be all too accurate. Like Sex and the City, Entourage started off as a satire-tinged lifestyle comedy about a group of friends. “Satire-tinged” is more accurate than claiming either show was an outright sendup, but each show sported a certain self-awareness about their characters’ shortcomings and the general frivolity of their premises.
As each program wore on, though, they became increasingly self-serious and unable to laugh at the same characters they once gently ridiculed. (Are we to think that Sex and the City’s Charlotte is any more suitable for motherhood than Entourage’s Johnny Drama is for A-list success?) Now Entourage has followed its older sister to the big screen for an orgy of fan service and nostalgia.
For the uninitiated, Entourage is the story of movie star-on-the-make Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), a blue-collar kid from Queens whose rocketship to success always has seats open for his old neighborhood buddies. Those include his childhood best pal Eric (Kevin Connolly), doofus sidekick Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), and ever doofusier half-brother Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon), the jealous second fiddle of the family. With the help of nuclear-grade egomaniac agent Ari (Jeremy Piven), the boys navigate Vince’s path to superstardom, pausing along the way only to have sex with beautiful young women who speak as little as possible.
But if you are uninitiated, what are you doing here? It’s hard to imagine what might possess someone to go see the cinematic continuation of an increasingly less-beloved TV show that debuted more than a decade ago.
Series creator Doug Ellin, here ambitiously handling both writing and directing duties solo, makes concessions to these mythological Entourage newbies with a stilted opening conceit that intends to fill in all the necessary background information. It comes in the form of a Piers Morgan interview that inexplicably chooses not to focus on big star Vince but rather on his not-famous pals. It does unintentionally work a little magic, though: If you want your characters to seem less-despicable by contrast, stand them next to Piers Morgan.
I never saw the later seasons of Entourage, but that doesn’t really matter. In the Entourage world, consequences don’t exist. So even though Vince apparently got married, the movie opens with him on a yacht full of single hotties just a few days after divorcing an unseen woman who, in his words, realized she made a mistake, so she slept with him and then left the next day without speaking or asking for money. Similarly, Ari, who quit the business, has been installed as the head of a major studio. He wants Vince to star in a superhero movie called Hyde, but there’s a catch— Vince wants to direct.
Entourage is god-awful, but no worse than the fiscally more successful yet equally amateurish first Sex and the City movie. That little atrocity, lest you forget, was so bad that feature-film novice director Michael Patrick King didn’t understand the difference in the framing of widescreen cinema versus standard-definition television, resulting in several key scenes where boom mics visibly dipped onto the screen. (Back in 2008, when the movie opened, many theaters, including those in Carbondale, had to offer rebates to customers who were angered by seeing filmmaking equipment hanging over Sarah Jessica Parker’s head.) But Entourage is barely even a film, and plays more like four episodes of the show mashed together, complete with a straight-out-of-pay-cable opening sequence complete with theme song.
The only time Entourage feels like a movie is when Ari blasts onto the screen. Odious as some viewers may find Piven, he’s a real-deal actor, and his scenes crackle with energy. In the best of them, he fails to avert a meltdown while listening to a meditation CD in his car. Removed from Entourage’s despicable worldview, it’s a funny sketch.
Piven’s scenes also stand out because Ari’s storyline actually has stakes and consequences, whereas Vince’s big conflict is that he’s sleeping with Blurred Lines girl Emily Ratajkowski, which angers a clueless film financier (Haley Joel Osment) who wants to treat her like an object all by himself.
The only other remotely interesting plotline is a romance between the likable Ferrara and real-life mixed martial arts fighter Ronda Rousey. Other subplots include Johnny Drama being humiliated when a masturbatory Skype session with a married woman goes public, and Eric accidentally impregnating another woman while he’s trying to win back his already pregnant ex-girlfriend (Emmanuelle Chriqui). It speaks to Entourage’s mission creep that Eric, who began as the show’s protagonist, is the least-compelling part of an utterly dull movie. Just the notion that his biggest problem is that he sleeps with too many models seems more like a commentary on the psyche of creator/director Ellin, who rose to prominence as the real-life Eric in producer Mark Wahlberg’s personal entourage.
Various celebrities are trotted across the screen for cameos so brief you have to wonder if they even knew they were being filmed. Boobs are flashed. Asses are leered at. Pharrell shows up, is asked to sing, doesn’t sing. Everything works out! More boobs! Roll credits.
Entourage fails even as an empty-headed diversion. Whatever semi-sly commentary it once offered about the nature of work, friendship, and sex in Hollywood has disappeared into a talent void far more odious than whatever the show originally attempted to lampoon. We’re increasingly expected to believe that the one-note Grenier is not just a pretty face, but significantly talented.
We see a single scene from Hyde, the alleged blockbuster masterpiece that causes all of Entourage’s low-grade conflict. Grenier/Vince plays a superpowered DJ who fires pellets of magical ecstasy that transform groups of scantily clad ravers into a glam army to battle the forces of an oppressive police state. The notion that this little sliver of incomprehensible travesty is the cinematic Holy Grail around which all the action revolves is staggering. The only service Hyde provides is an example of a movie definitively worse than Entourage.
Follow Bryan Miller on Twitter@bmillercomedy.