By Mike Wilmington Wilmington@moviecitynews.com
Wilmington on Movies: Entourage
ENTOURAGE (Two Stars)
U.S.: Doug Ellin, 2015
I never caught any of TV’s “Entourage” — the hit Hollywood-set comedy-satire about a movie star from Queens and the three hometown buddies who get dragged along (like Elvis’ Memphis Mafia) in the wake of his rise to fame and riches. But it always struck me, from its rep and reviews, as a show I might enjoy, just as the movie that‘s now been inspired by that TV series, struck me as something that might hand me a laugh or two (or even three). Which just goes to show how gullible I can be.
I can’t speak to the show, yet. But I thought the movie — which I understood going in would be politically and sexually “incorrect” — would at least also be sharp and irreverent and “inside” and funny and good-looking, and it turns out to be none or little of the above, and especially not (very) funny and not (especially) good-looking — despite having more breasts than a Perdue Chicken warehouse. And despite being shot (fuzzily) in yachts off Ibiza and all over a lot of storied Hollywood hot spots and landmarks (from Century City to Musso and Frank’s). The movie sometimes seems like a Hollywood tour bus, but without the gabby tour guide — some of whom have funnier jokes.
The original show was based on a real-life entourage: the buddies and bros of genuine movie star Mark Wahlberg. And that gang actually shows up here, along with Wahlberg, in a slightly longer star cameo than the dozens of others (Liam Neeson scowling in a car, Jon Favreau gabbing with pals, Pharrell Williams at a party, Warren Buffet being chauffeured in a studio cart, and Jessica Alba, Mike Tyson, Andrew Dice Clay, Mark Cuban and Kelsey Grammer), who pop up entertainingly, but not quite as gracefully or amusingly as the big star cameos in Robert Altman’s and Michael Tolkin’s genuinely sharp, funny and good-looking backstage Hollywood classic The Player. Wahlberg is one of the producers of both the show and the picture (which, like a smart businessman, he uses to plug Ted) and maybe if he and his crew had been on longer, or if director-writer Doug Ellin had figured a way to weave the two entourages together, the movie might have improved. But no such (fuckin’) luck.
As it is, Ellin — who also wrote the TV show and directed a half dozen or so episodes — has brought back the original entourage: Adrian Grenier as the horny young movie star Vincent Chase, Kevin Dillon as his hornier old brother and B-movie actor Johnny “Drama” Chase, Kevin Connelly as his even hornier best friend and manager Eric “E” Murphy, and Jerry Ferrara as his also pretty damned horny driver and go-fer and aide Salvatore “Turtle” Assante). Ellin has continued the twisted and lasciviously soap-operatic plotlines from where the show left off four years ago.
Also reappearing, from the show’s very dense dramatis personae, are some of the scads of women and sex partners the guys spend a lot of their time knowing or pursuing: including Emmanuelle Chriqui as Eric‘s now pregnant ex-girlfriend Sloan McQuewick, Constance Zimmer as Dana and Debi Mazar as Shauna. And, of course, the guy who reportedly wound up being the real star of the series: Chicago’s own Jeremy Piven as Vince‘s sleazy, smarmy but extremely well-dressed agent Ari Gold, who has now become a sleazy, smarmy but incredibly well-dressed studio CEO. (Perrey Reeves is also back as Mrs. Ari.) There are also some new characters, notably Billy Bob Thornton (best actor in the movie) as Texas gaziggazillionaire Carson McCredle, who is the main investor in Vince‘s latest movie, and Haley Joel Osment as Carson’s horny and also obnoxious son Travis, whom Carson sends to Hollywood to make sure his money is being spent wisely (which is like sending an accounting team of foxes to manage a henhouse). Emily Ratajkowksi plays herself, supposedly Vince‘s latest inamorata.
The new story into which all these characters, and more, and the dozens of cameos, have been shoe-horned, involves the movie in which McCredle has invested and in which Vince is starring and also, on his insistence, directing, and which Ari, despite understandable qualms, gets for him — and on which Vince has already run over budget. It’s a $100 million-and-counting contempo-action-disco-horror movie called “Hyde,” which seems like a sure-fire stinker, but which, bad as it sounds (and, in a few quick clips we see, bad as it seems to be), winds up being…
“awesome” according to studio head Ari, as well as a critical sensation and a mountainous box office hit.
END OF SPOILER
Having the guys do a cruddy-sounding project like Hyde actually strikes me as a potentially funny idea, but only if Hyde actually were the cruddy-sounding and derivative mess it portends. Yet part of the problem with the movie, as many have noted, is that it’s as much a wish-fulfillment fantasy as it is a dark satire. The movie laughs at these guys, but it’s still always rooting for them to win, jerks as they may be, even at the expense of what might be some funny scenes and seriously funny jokes.
Back in Hollywood’s Golden Age, even hampered by the Production Code, the best comedy writers were often more than ready to take potshots at their own studios. Writers like Billy Wilder, Preston Sturges, or Ben Hecht could cheerfully bite off the hands that fed them, in classics of backstage satire and expose’ like Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, Sturges’ Sullivan‘s Travels and Hecht’s hilarious, neglected Woman of Sin, the last episode of the 1952 Actors and Sin — in which the director-writer’s daughter Jenny played a 9-year-old who becomes a best-selling pirate romance novelist and the script-writing sensation of Hollywood.
That great comedian-scriptwriter W. C. Fields wielded a similar anti-studio scalpel in his late, acidulous classics The Bank Dick and Never Give a Sucker an Even Break, and in more recent times we’ve had The Player, Steve Martin’s Bowfinger, Barry Levinson and David Mamet and Hilary Henkel’s Wag the Dog and the Coen Brothers’ Barton Fink, all of which scathingly and sometimes hilariously sent up new and old Hollywood. These very knowing writers knew when and where to cross the line and either stick in the knife or indulge the audience’s dreams (you might argue that Sturges was even adopting the studio‘s viewpoint in Sullivan‘s Travels) — just as Comden and Green and Kelly and Donen knew it and did it in that greatest of all Hollywood satires, and warmest of all Hollywood valentines, Singin’ in the Rain — which fulfilled as many wishes as it skewered phonies.
Entourage isn’t as sure of itself, and that’s part of why it isn’t as funny. The movie’s comedy would be a lot sharper, if more of it came at the expense of these guys, instead of at the expense of everybody else around them. (That’s less true of Ari and Johnny “Drama,” who are more comic characters than the others are.) It would be funnier if we could laugh more often at the guys‘ ineptitude and dubious moviemaking and their inability to keep their cool in a crisis, if we didn‘t have the feeling that they, and the writer behind them, were bragging about their zooming careers and sexual conquests.
Instead, they’re presented as all-around winners, who get in a lot of crazy, sexy scrapes. The movie becomes a kind of lewd Thank Your Lucky Stars or a sex-crazed It‘s a Great Feeling — and, in those two all-star Warner Bros. ‘40s shows, both Eddie Cantor and Jack Carson were far more willing to seemingly trash themselves and joke about their images for laughs. Entourage has its moments, but a lot of it feels like being swaggered and slobbered over by a boastful drunk whose stories aren’t a tenth as funny as he thinks. It’s as if the Entourage crew got to do a 100 million dollar remake of “Springtime for Hitler,” and this time, they got not only got the same implausible box office smash that original producers Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom managed back in 1968, but they also won the Pulitzer Prize, 17 Oscars (including sound editing), plus the Jean Hersholt Humanitarian Award, and then married (and cheated on) every hottie this side of the Hollywood sign. And topped it off with cocktails at Michael’s and a yacht race to Ibiza. I’m just kidding of course.