Who among us has seen photos of a star — a Leonardo DiCaprio, let's say — riding a jet pack in some exotic locale and not wondered about the moments just before or after? Are they as sexy and effortless? Are those people dotting the background the ones who called up the rental service?
Such insights have always been the promise of "Entourage," a show in thrall to celebrity and its turbulent wake, though the big-screen adaptation of the award-winning HBO series seems about as inside Hollywood as a dedicated viewer of "Entertainment Tonight." Its layers of aspirational opulence get in the way of anything more genuine, revealing or lacerating. It's Hollywood for Dummies.
The film picks up less than a week after the end of the series — which has been off the air for four years — to continue the adventures of a simple New York boy turned wildly successful Hollywood movie star named Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier), Vince to his friends. An impulsive marriage lasted only a few days (his wife is unseen in the movie), and he is eager to get back to work.
For anyone who doesn't know the series, the movie introduces its main characters via a supposed Piers Morgan television profile of Vince that functions as a "previously on 'Entourage' " recap. There's Vince's brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon), a working actor who never made it big ,; Vince's childhood friend turned manager and producer Eric (Kevin Connolly); and driver and errand runner Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), who made his own fortune in specialty tequila.
Vince's longtime agent, Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), is now a recently installed studio chief. The first movie of Ari's regime is a $100-million-plus production called "Hyde" with a first-time director, Vince.
As the film opens, a speedboat makes its way toward a big party on a bigger yacht off the coast of Ibiza, and the first line of dialogue is Johnny declaring to Eric and Turtle an urge to self-pleasure.
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It's tempting to simply end this review here, as in some ways you now know all you need to make up your mind as to whether you want to see such a movie or not. But for the sake of completion, pardon the phrase, let's continue.
Written and directed by series creator Doug Ellin, the film has an elevated scale compared with the series, with bigger houses, bigger parties and flashier cars, and features a good few episodes' worth of plot churning. (The show was initially based loosely on the circle of friends around star Mark Wahlberg, who is a producer and among many celebrity cameos here.) Whether created because of fan service or contractual obligation, the movie has none of the fizz of the earliest of the series' eight seasons, and watching it summons that vague blank familiarity of discovering a show you used to watch is unexpectedly still on the air.
The movie Vince is directing is kept extremely vague, with only a few moments of the film itself seen briefly on-screen. Tellingly, when a reference is made in the film to "Warren," it is not Beatty, but Buffett. The star financial magnate also makes a brief cameo, inexplicably whizzing across a studio lot in a golf cart, and the heart of the film even more than the show is not in the creative work of making movies but in its monetary rewards and lifestyle.
Much of the story involves a long stretch as the the guys organize a screening of the movie for reactions among friends that quickly escalates to a full-on party. At the same time, Ari is scrambling to placate the Texas businessman (Billy Bob Thornton) who is actually funding Vince's movie as a distraction from his own real work.
Haley Joel Osment is Thornton's son, sent as an emissary to oversee their investment, who is quickly himself besotted by the implied license that comes with glamorous excess. It's indicative of the insularity of the world of the movie — and Ellin's conception of it — that he is seen only as a yokel to be fleeced and sent packing, rather than someone feeding off the same imagery and culture as the guys to enable his own bad behavior.
The film's biggest stumbling block is its self-satisfied, dismissive attitude toward anyone outside its main circle, in particular women, who are depicted almost exclusively as nags, scolds, schemers or ornamentation. That the bonds of friendship between Vince and his pals are predicated so strongly on excluding others feels regressive and drags the movie away from harmless high jinks into something needlessly more spiteful and ugly. Then there is the always bizarre, jokey racism and homophobia in the way Ari treats a former assistant Lloyd, played by Rex Lee.
The only female character to break free is athlete Ronda Rousey, as herself, with a playful screen presence. She and Turtle repeatedly mix signals as to whether they are interested in each other personally or professionally, and their scenes have a freshness not found elsewhere.
In part because Vince is such an ill-defined character, charming and handsome but essentially empty, and Grenier so convincing in the part, there was always something of a missing center to the show. In turn, this created an internal conundrum as to whether the main character was really Vince, Eric or Ari, and that same issue hovers over the film as well.
One cannot say that nothing happens in "Entourage," but much of it feels like busywork and wheel-spinning, middle episodes of a larger season-long arc. At the end of the film, none of the characters are particularly different from where or how they were at the start. Their behavior, good, bad and indifferent, has gotten all of them all that they wanted.
Certainly there is much worth skewering in the contemporary movie business, which is rife with self-congratulation and pettiness. Yet that would require either a teller of painful truths or an over-the-top fabulist, Altman or Fellini, and Doug Ellin is certainly neither of those. Rather, even in a supposed knowing satire, Ellin and his gang still want to believe in the fantasy so badly that the curtain is never really pulled back and nothing is revealed. Everyone in "Entourage" is livin' the dream, and there is no one to wake them up.
Running time: 1 hour and 44 minutes
Rated R for pervasive language, strong sexual content, nudity and some drug use.