I loved the show Entourage—partially because it was once so damn addictive (obligatory ‘primarily the early seasons’ addendum goes here), partially because my introduction to it dovetailed with my burgeoning fascination with Hollywood, and partially because I’m a sap sometimes.
Now, the Entourage boys have once again taken the Sex and the City lead and made a movie. Let’s be frank: on a cinematic level, it’s a hot mess. On an ‘Entourage fan’ level? Things are a little more complicated.
Unequivocally, the movie does not equal the show at its peak—which consisted roughly of ‘season one except when E pretended he was mad at Vince’ through season three’s “One Day in the Valley” gem—which makes it an imperfect representation. By all means, don’t start here. Nevertheless, I walked out of the theater in a better mood than when I walked in. Therein lies the devilish appeal of Doug Ellin’s universe.
The movie centers on our hero, the Mark Wahlberg-styled Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), trying to direct himself in a hip, big-budget adaptation of Jekyll & Hyde that looks indecipherable. That means his longtime agent and current Hollywood exec Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven’s career-defining role) has to do battle with financiers to get insane amounts of money—you know, in order to translate Vince’s avant-garde artistic skills to the screen. Meanwhile, E (Kevin Connolly, a touch less awful than we’re used to seeing), Drama (Kevin Dillon, good as ever, particularly when not being misogynistic), and Turtle (Jerry Ferrara, who’s just…Turtle) have their own stories, to varying degrees of entertainment.
Even for Entourage, the plotlines are light and airy—Indiewire accurately describes the film as “strangely devoid of a third act,” but hey, who’s counting? Ellin’s greatest gift, that of sharp dialogue, remains largely intact, and there are a good number of laughs to be had. He may have run out of interesting ways to peel back the curtain on Hollywood, but he still knows how to construct snappy conversations that feel fresh and lively, but not overly glib, and that’s a difficult feat even for professionals.
He even found the perfect way to extend Drama’s streak of disastrous auditions. It’s so fitting, in fact, that I couldn’t believe a Johnny Drama sex tape had never leaked before. Likewise, Dillon does his usual excellent job with Drama approaching something like self-awareness about his limited talent. (Remind me again why we had to see less of this subplot in order to feature Sloan?)
But while Entourage hums along smoothly enough, with some nice zingers in most scenes, there’s too much heft missing. The biggest problem is that Ellin has already tipped his hand about the manner and ease with which every conflict will be worked out. The general trend towards very-surmountable conflicts and laughably simple resolutions was just never in danger of being flipped around for this movie. (The scene with E and the two girls at the restaurant was somewhat clever, but it’s also a hilarious—in the wrong way—epitome of this sad state of affairs.)
[pullquote]As the stakes should feel the highest—with Vince directing his first movie and Ari running his first studio—they’re actually at their lowest. As the preponderance of breasts and four-letter words has increased, it’s somehow become less edgy than ever. As the characters’ ambitions have evolved, the writers’ have plummeted.[/pullquote]
Entourage always had a laid-back, ain’t-life-grand component, but it singed a little bit; part of the joy of the first few seasons was not knowing what would happen with these characters. Some episodes even ended on dramatic cliffhangers, for God’s sake. Mess around too much, and Ari might get fired, Eric/Vince might lose Emily/Mandy for good, Vince might lose A2, Medellin might suck. Compelling viewers to keep watching out of concern for possible Bad Things happening to the characters was a legitimate Entourage technique.
In other words, the characters’ decisions mattered. Sacrifices and bold actions were required. No more. I’m not sure exactly why or when it happened, but as the show “traded its satiric freshness for sappy wish-fulfillment fantasy,” the word ‘consequences’ left its creative vocabulary.
Early on, the show felt like it was about something aside from perpetual adolescence. The conflicts with Ari and the studios added another dimension, and Vince’s philosophical disagreements with him seemed to represent not only the inherent difficulty in getting any movie made, but also how acting ability is often inversely proportional to marketing savvy. In addition, Drama’s Sisyphusian task of trying to resurrect his career—such as it was—presented another, more relatable side of the equation and told us that not everything the boys touch turns instantly to gold.
In the world of the later seasons and the movie, the conflicts are too flimsy, the tension too goofy, the extra dimensions fully neutered. Now, when Jessica Alba tells Ari she’s walking off her movie unless he greenlights her passion project, you don’t get the sense that the concession will make him even remotely uncomfortable, as it would have in season two. When Sloan takes E back for the 97th time, you think back to the earlier girls who would have dropped him over a cliff. When Vince and the guys talk with Ari, there’s none of the defiant unease that rumbled through their early conversations; Ari is just as close of a friend as everyone else, and the proceedings are more boring for it. And when someone ‘puts everything on the line’ for a movie, there’s no fear that we’ll have a Medellin on our hands.
Thus, as the stakes should feel the highest—with Vince directing his first movie and Ari running his first studio—they’re actually at their lowest. As the preponderance of breasts and four-letter words has increased, it’s somehow become less edgy than ever. As the characters’ ambitions have grown, the writers’ have plummeted. In short, it’s remarkable just how much this movie feels like the center of a Hostess cupcake. And nobody really wants the fluff with nothing around it. You shouldn’t even be able to get to it.
Yet, even though Entourage is hardly a haystack with needles representing flaws, I exited smiling. Maybe that’s just because I can envision how frustratingly, astonishingly easily it could have been ten times better. Couldn’t Ellin, if he’d wanted to, have given us a plot mechanism more organic and authentic than ‘financier’s redneck kid is jealous of Vince’s girlfriend’? Give us less Sloan and more Shauna. Take us behind the scenes of Vince’s directorial debut and show us how that changes the dynamic between him and Ari. Does it make him even more empowered and arrogant, or does the difficulty of the task shatter his once-bulletproof confidence?
On a macro scale, if there’s going to be another movie, Ellin needs to try to capture the more nuanced tone of the early seasons. One of the original Entourage taglines was “A lifestyle is a terrible thing to waste,” which reveals the essence of the show as well as anything could. And that’s great. I’m fully on board with fun. They’ve just forgotten that everything’s more fun with a little danger.