It was hard enough to buy that Vincent Chase, the budding movie star Adrian Grenier played on Entourage for eight seasons, was more than a smirk and a shrug—that he was, as the show dubiously posited, a genuinely gifted actor, good enough to score a pivotal role in, say, a Martin Scorsese movie. But in this week’s extended, big-screen episode of Entourage, our panty-dropping, pinup-boy hero decides that what he’d really like to do is direct. And prepare to suspend that disbelief further, as it turns out he’s as brilliant behind the camera as he is in front of it.
The proof: Hyde, a $100 million Jekyll And Hyde adaptation about a superhero DJ. It sounds like a fiasco of Battlefield Earth proportions, and looks— judging from the couple minutes of footage we’re allowed to see—like a commercial for a sports drink. But agent-turned-mogul Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) sees a masterpiece and smells a hit, and he’s willing to fight to preserve all 140 minutes of the Nolan-esque action, even as his untested, inexperienced director demands another $15 million to get his superhero DJ movie just right.
One could argue, charitably, that the rapturous reception this film-within-a-film receives is all part of the joke—another jab at Hollywood and the questionable tastes of both studio executives and the audiences they feed. But we’re talking here about Entourage, whose “scathing” industry insights rarely, if ever, extended to the vacuous celebrity protagonist at its center. When it premiered on HBO, back in the summer of 2004, Entourage came wrapped in the clothes of a Tinseltown takedown, using the gatecrashing exploits of a Queens heartthrob and his three hometown hangers-on as a looking glass into the absurdities of Los Angeles. But as the seasons ticked off, the show’s sex-and-drug-fueled misadventures starting looking less like satire and more like a vanity project cooked up by its own characters.
For those who loved the series and its steady supply of winking star cameos, half-dressed models, and boys-will-be-boys banter, the good news is that Entourage has made the transition from the small screen to the large one basically intact. (Worry not, fans: The familiar buzz of that Jane’s Addiction theme makes an early appearance.) The bad news is that Vince and the bros have to sustain their “appeal” for an unbroken 104 minutes—a veritable eternity for these one-dimensional sitcom Neanderthals.
While Vince fulfills his true artistic calling, his boys grapple, naturally, with girl problems. Erik (Kevin Connolly), sensitive hothead of the group, is days away from becoming a father. But because monogamy is lame or something, the film engineers a breakup with his pregnant, long-suffering girlfriend Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui), leaving E to follow his libido into trouble. (His major problem, in a nutshell, is that too many women want to fuck him.) Meanwhile, slimmed-down sidekick Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), now independently wealthy and subject to a lot of cracks about his weight loss, tries to score a date with MMA fighter Ronda Rousey, playing herself. And of course there’s Vince’s doltish B-lister of an older brother, Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon, a doltish B-lister of an older brother himself). In the thinnest of the subplots, Drama fears retribution from the boyfriend of a Skype-sex partner, while also stressing that his supporting part in Vince’s movie may get left on the cutting-room floor.
Though Entourage is set just months after the events of the HBO finale, its actors are (noticeably) several years older, and there’s something kind of sad, even desperate about seeing these characters behave like the same horny frat boys they basically were at the start of the series. That goes too for Ari, whose ascendancy to the top of the Hollywood pecking order hasn’t much altered his role in the proceedings—namely, to drive frantically around L.A., cursing a blue streak into his phone while trying to salvage the project his star client has jeopardized. Piven, with his jackal sneer and silver tongue, has always afforded this soulless cartoon power player more comic energy than he deserved. But Entourage beats his charisma into the pavement, mostly through the endless stream of hacky Jewish and gay jokes he’s forced to spew. (Rex Lee returns as former whipping-boy assistant Lloyd, who for some reason is intent on getting his abusive ex-boss to walk him down the aisle.) Ari’s other function here is to help facilitate the pointless parade of celebrity drop-ins, the most egregious of which finds executive producer Mark Wahlberg using his minute or two of screen time to promote his other projects. Gut-busting stuff.
There are villains, too. Strapped for cash, Ari flies out to Texas to secure another few million from the private investors co-funding Vince’s movie. Larsen McCredle, a bastardly cowboy billionaire played by Billy Bob Thornton, sends his son, Travis (Haley Joel Osment), to Hollywood to see the movie. Travis is treated like a leering creep, mostly because he dares to behave a lot like our heroes—shamelessly ogling every bikinied body in sight—even though he’s fat and slovenly and from Texas. The character even has the gall to hit on Emily Ratajkowski, also playing herself. (Her casting is appropriate, as Entourage is basically the “Blurred Lines” of movies.) Writer-director Doug Ellin, who created the series and stages most scenes here like a Maxim photo-shoot in motion, builds the film’s scant traces of actual drama around the mad jealousy of this interloper. The contemptuous message is clear: Leave the womanizing to the beautiful people.
Not that this conflict, or any other one, ever feels particularly pressing. Like its pay-cable inspiration, Entourage remains stubbornly, defiantly low-stakes. One of the running gags of the series was how flippant, how what-me-worry casual Vince was about his own career, constantly reassuring his posse of moochers that they could always “move back to Queens” if things didn’t work out. (As if they ever didn’t.) Here, though, the joke is practically on the very idea of artistic investment. Directing a movie, even an awful-looking one like Hyde, takes effort. It requires that you give a shit. Notably, we never see Vince on set or ever hear him say anything about what his superhero DJ movie is trying to accomplish. He produces a supposed “masterpiece” without breaking a sweat. In reality, all this guy would be qualified to direct is some empty, insular tribute to his own wealth and fame. You know, something like Entourage.