Sometimes television shows are cut down too soon and are reborn as feature films to fill the hole left in the hearts of the fans and the creators. So great is the sense of premature loss, the feeling that the characters never got to achieve their full potential, that, through sheer tyranny of will, a final act manages to materialize, however improbably. Firefly and Veronica Mars were shows like this. Entourage was not. It was a show that profoundly lacked any true sense of purpose after its second season, yet continued onward for an additional six anyway. There were no untapped reservoirs to explore in any of its single-note characters, no daring storylines it had the slightest interest in tackling. Entourage, unusual for a premium cable series, was a rudderless hangout show, happy to keep the party going for as long as its parent network was willing to foot the bill.
Now Entourage is a movie, not because it has anything left to do or say, but because Mark Wahlberg is its executive producer and has carte blanche to do whatever he damn well pleases. The film continues the alleged story of Hollywood A-lister Vincent Chase (the thoroughly blank Adrian Grenier) and his posse of loyal hangers-on, including manager Eric “E” Murphy (charisma-deficient and inexplicably top-billed Kevin Connolly), has-been half-brother Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon) and slimmed-down pothead turned entrepreneur Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), as they navigate their way through a showbiz terrain depicted as an easygoing bacchanal of scantily-clad women, eight-figure mansions and sweet rides. Also back is Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), Vince’s attack-dog of an agent who never met a problem he couldn’t solve by screaming profanities into a cell phone.
The movie picks up about six months after the series finale and wastes little time buying back everything established in that episode. Vince’s impending marriage to Alice Eve’s character has already reached the annulment phase. E has already broken up with his pregnant on/off-again girlfriend Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui). Drama’s hit animated series Johnny Bananas is already off the air. And Ari, made studio head in the final scene of the finale by retiring boss John Ellis (glower king Alan Dale), now only occupies that role on a provisional basis. Vince had caught the directing bug by series’ end (intending to make his directorial debut with a TV-movie about miners starring Drama, which is never mentioned here) and tells Ari that he’ll star in the sorta-mogul’s first big project, but only if he can also direct it. Ari, because Vince has some strange sentimental hold over him that’s never made much sense, immediately capitulates.
The project, called Hyde, appears, from the brief glimpse of it we’re afforded, to be some kind of superhero film about an otherworldly rave DJ who shoots some kind of super-Ecstasy into the mouths of his adoring crowd while fighting evil forces, and it is going well over budget, forcing Ari to fly to Texas to grovel to the financier (Billy Bob Thornton, whose look suggests this was shot while he was still doing Fargo) for more cash. Ari is saddled with the man’s son (a doughy, overly Texified Haley Joel Osment) to micromanage how the money is being spent. That means seeing a rough cut of Vince’s movie, which the director isn’t yet ready to unveil.
While the struggle over Vince’s magnum opus provides the crux of Entourage’s story, the truth is that there is exceedingly little going on in this film. The TV show, by its later years, had long since devolved into a repetitious slog of Vince and the gang enjoying their privileged lives while things that mildly resembled problems occasionally presented themselves only to be immediately defused as the beer bottles were clinked and the private jet was fueled. Entourage liked to pretend it was a savage satire of Hollywood, but it never really displayed any sort of incisive take on that world. It was a wish-fulfillment fantasy for douchebags, a chance to live vicariously through Vince and his boys as they took it easy for the rest of us schnooks.
Entourage, the movie, sees no reason to veer away from that modus operandi. It opens with the boys on a yacht surrounded by bikini girls and we return to similar surroundings more than once throughout. The show never strayed from the principle that everything would and will always work out for Team Chase, that anything that would ever threaten their cushy lifestyle will ultimately fall away, and the movie is no different. Vince directing an overbudget sinkhole of a would-be blockbuster and then having to deal with the fallout of such a substantial, high-profile failure is the kind of storyline that could really bear fruit and say something insightful about the pitfalls of Tinseltown. So of course Vince’s movie turns out to be a staggering work of heartbreaking genius destined to rule the box office and award ceremonies, leaving the only real dilemma present being that mean old Texan and his petty tyrant of a son refusing to loosen the purse strings and give Vince the extra dough he needs to win hard. This is the eternal problem with Entourage, this hesitancy to ever upset the apple cart and actually allow its characters to struggle and lose in an industry where that experience happens to almost everyone at one point or another. The show was based upon Wahlberg’s own Hollywood experiences, and he has led such a charmed life that perhaps failure simply isn’t in his purview. If he never stumbled, why should his onscreen counterpart?
The film struggles to give any of its characters a subplot meaty enough for even an episode of the show, much less an entire feature film. E has intersecting girl troubles with a couple of recent conquests, a quandary that threatens to collapse from sheer tedium before it ultimately does so in complete confusion. Drama learns that a recent hookup has a jealous, vengeful boyfriend and suffers his customary public humiliation as a result. Turtle tries to date UFC champion Ronda Rousey and almost blows it until he doesn’t.
Vince, the actual main character of the thing, doesn’t even really have a subplot, instead just sort of coasting through the film occasionally asking questions about the outcome of his passion project and looking vacant. Vince has always been Entourage’s most baffling component. At some point over the course of the series, it became clear that the perception of Vincent Chase that the audience had developed was not the same one that the show itself held. Every time we saw footage of Vince acting, the sly, ostensibly intentional joke always seemed to be that he was a very minimally talented thespian with good looks and good luck on his side. Instead of watching the downfall of this obvious flash-in-the-pan as his luck inevitably dried up, it was reinforced over and over again that, in the world of Entourage, Vince is largely considered to be a charismatic, gifted actor. When we catch our glimpse of Hyde, it looks terrible - again, seemingly by design - until we’re then told by all of the characters that, no, it’s actually a brilliant film. That disconnect between what we see and what we’re told about Vincent Chase has always been the most jarring trait of this franchise.
Fortunately for the franchise, there’s Ari. It cannot be overstated just how much Jeremy Piven brings to this entire enterprise. Of the core foursome, only Dillon’s Drama has any comedic oomph whatsoever, the other three coming across as unappealing drips. But Piven imbues Ari with such volcanic presence that he almost singlehandedly makes up for the shortcomings of his co-stars. As in the series, Ari is given the most to do. He’s the one running all over town, moving mountains due to his misplaced, completely confounding belief in Vincent Chase, while everyone else knocks back a few by the pool. It must be said that much of what Piven is given to say isn’t intrinsically funny, but his explosive commitment to the role makes it all seem funnier than it is (his furious, involuntary punching of a framed “Big Eyes” painting is the film’s one good laugh). If Entourage were solely about the life of superagent Ari Gold as he attempts to conduct business while the veins in his forehead suffer for it, Entourage would be a much better show, and film, than it is (even if the title wouldn’t make much sense).
In addition to having so little forward momentum and struggling constantly to justify its own existence, Entourage also ports over many of the other problems of the series, having learned nothing during its time away. It still has no idea what to do with any female character who isn’t half-naked, as evidenced by continuing to treat both Sloan and Ari’s long-suffering wife (Perrey Reeves) as props that occasionally nag. Also remaining, somewhat inextricably, is the show’s completely unaware aura of total douchiness, celebrating characters and a lifestyle that a savvier project would treat with the appropriate disdain. And then there is the usual host of pointless celebrity cameos, as when David Spade, Ed O’Neill and a disturbingly obese Jon Favreau pop up briefly and to no effect.
Furthermore, the film is essentially fan service for Entourage enthusiasts, presenting characters like Billy Walsh and Shauna Roberts without any explanation for who they are supposed to be to newbies. To be fair, the Veronica Mars movie essentially did the same thing, but those were richer characters with interesting things going on in their world, and ones who didn’t get eight full seasons to wear out their welcomes. They were also in a movie that people outside of the hard-luck cast asked for.
The question now is whether or not Entourage has more movies in it (though still unanswered is the question of if it even had one). Sex and the City, a show for which this is considered to be “the male version,” got a movie AND a sequel, but again, that show was far more of a beloved cultural touchstone than this one. No, I think that once the box office totals are tallied, this will be the one time where things don’t all work out for Vinnie Chase and his bros.
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