Shameful disclosure, part one: I watched the entire run of the HBO series Entourage back when it was on the air. Shameful disclosure, part two: I kind of enjoyed it. The show, which premiered in 2004, started off as a glitzy, not-particularly-deep hybrid of Hollywood satire and voyeuristic wish-fulfillment. Its very shallowness was its charm. (Remember, 2004, 2005, 2006 … those were pretty dark, hellish years.) The satire part eventually faded away while the fantasy loomed ever larger, as Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) became a bigger and bigger star. He and his trio of loyal buds had started off regarding Hollywood with a mix of fear and wonder; by the end, they were part of the machine. And while the early seasons were sharper and funnier than later ones, it was still interesting to observe how the characters’ self-regard translated as they transformed from outsiders to insiders — as their clueless delusions became unlikely reality.
The new feature-film Entourage, written and directed by the series’ creator, Doug Ellin, picks up its protagonists pretty much exactly where it left them in 2011. The film opens in Ibiza, where Vincent, after a marriage that has lasted all of nine days, is drowning his sorrows with a yacht full of scantily clad beauties. (Not that anyone remembers — Entourage was not one of those shows where anyone was going to debate the merits or meaning of the finale — but the series ended with him flying off to get married.) His friends, Eric, a.k.a. “E” (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), and Vince’s own brother, Johnny (Kevin Dillon), join him, while expressing their typical, perpetual amazement at the female bounty on display. Meanwhile, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), Vince’s onetime agent and king of Hollywood, is in Positano with his family, supposedly retired from the business but contemplating coming back to run a studio. It’s the way a season of the show might have opened — catching up with our leads while reassuring us that they’ve all remained the same. Even the visuals of the opening are meant to establish consistency: A slick vehicle (a car, a boat, a helicopter, whatever) arrives at a place filled with women — this is basically how most scenes in Entourage start.
And so, the film plays out mostly like an occasionally above-average episode of the show. (It’s even got the same credits song — oh yeeeeeeah — albeit with a somewhat newer montage.) Or, more accurate, it plays out like a season of the show, condensed to feature length. After that brief intro in Europe, we flash forward some months. Vince has now made his directorial debut on a big-budget action-fantasy vehicle called Hyde, which E is producing. (We’re told it’s great, but the glimpses we see look like the village idiot decided to remake Blade.) Production has wrapped, but they need an extra $15 million to finish the movie. To beg for the money, Ari, who personally green-lit Vince’s project upon his return to the studio, heads to Texas to butter up an oil tycoon (Billy Bob Thornton) who is financing the film. The tycoon sends along his pudgy, not-too-bright son (Haley Joel Osment, who has somehow become a great character actor after puberty took child stardom away from him) back to Hollywood with Ari. The kid, who has control over the purse strings, turns out to have ideas of his own on how to finish the film. Ari, torn between his loyalty to Vince and his duty to the studio, winds up stepping in.
We know what will happen from there on out. Vince will continue to look handsome and cool, Ari will scream into a phone, Johnny will boast and whine, E will maybe start a new relationship while pining for his erstwhile ex, Sloan (Emanuelle Chriqui) — with whom he’s actually having a child — and Turtle will … well, I’m still not entirely sure what Turtle does, but this time he’s fallen for UFC star Ronda Rousey (playing herself). And it would have been foolish to expect Doug Ellin to add any extra complexity or innovation to the basic Entourage setup. (He isn’t Michael Mann trying to reinvent Miami Vice, after all.) Is that a waste, or a weird act of integrity? Trying to revise a whisper-thin formula that has largely worked for your audience can get pretty old pretty quickly. At the same time, it’s hard not to get a little restless watching endless Steadicam shots in which our characters banter around while anonymous, be-stilettoed sylphs sashay in the background. That “walk-and-talk” aesthetic is par for the course in the TV world, with its ruthless schedules and dialogue-based content; on film, it feels like laziness.
There is one subtle aspect of the Entourage film that feels new, however. Women have always been an odd presence here. (Though let me note for the record that most of the fans of the show I’ve known have actually been women.) In Entourage’s somewhat dumber variation on the Madonna-whore complex, women were either the sensible ones (like Sloan) or the lemmings throwing themselves at Vince. The film complicates that somewhat. E, who has always been depicted as the milquetoast nice guy in the entourage, strikes up relationships with two girls — which winds up getting him labeled a typical L.A. douchebag, a distinction he has fought long and hard not to achieve. Johnny, equally horny and ambitious, winds up achieving a sick kind of fame thanks to a sexting mishap. Turtle, who has always been a pudgy, lovable outsider, has become a fit millionaire liquor importer and winds up getting in trouble with Rousey for being an opportunist like all the other men she meets. I’m not sure the film carries through on any of these threads — other than tying them up neatly by the end — but simply the fact that it’s interrogating its protagonists’ attitudes towards women feels … well, refreshing might be too strong a word, so let’s just go for sentient.
At the same time, someone who has never seen (or enjoyed) the show probably wouldn’t know what to do with the movie’s weird insularity. In its own way, Entourage is as self-referential as any New Wave film, dropping hints and references with ruthless abandon. There’s druggie Billy Walsh (Rhys Coiro), who once directed Vince as Pablo Escobar in an infamous disaster that consumed a couple of seasons of the show, Medellín. There’s Mark Cuban, in his requisite two-sizes-too-tight T-shirt, who helped Turtle become a wealthy liquor importer. There’s producer Mark Wahlberg with his own entourage, on whom the show’s characters were loosely based. There’s Gary Busey, who would randomly pop up as himself in increasingly weird situations on the show. There’s Lloyd (Rex Lee), Ari’s buoyant former assistant, who wants Ari to give him away at his gay wedding to Greg Louganis (who was just one of the film’s seemingly endless supply of B-, C-, and D-list celebrities). A couple of nods to backstory might be one thing, but Entourage the film assumes an astounding amount of shared knowledge on the part of its audience. That self-regard fits in with the indulgent world the movie depicts. It’s a bro-mage to itself.