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Non-Review Review: Entourage

Entourage is surprisingly inoffensive.

It has been four years since HBO’s showbiz comedy went off the air. In many respects, Entourage feels like a class reunion – even to somebody unfamiliar with the source material. There is a lot of affection here, no real sense of tension or stress. Everybody is perfectly comfortable, and the entire film has the feeling of something that everybody involved has been doing for quite some time. Anything that looks like a rough edge has been smoothed off, so the film glides along without any meaningful obstruction.

All at sea...

All at sea…

Entourage is not a great film on its own terms. However, it is not trying to be. Instead, it feels like an affectionate slice of nostalgia. It is telling that most of the cameos in the film tend to nod towards older actors and audiences. At one point, Johnny “Drama” Chase reflects that he was cast in the table read of The West Wing and he finds himself competing for roles against David Faustino of Married With Children. Faustino is just one cast member of Married With Children to cameo. Entourage feels familiar and safe, and entirely comfortable with those attributes.

The result is a functional cinematic adaptation for a show that probably did not need one. The stakes in Entourage never feel particularly high, the characters never seem particularly worried. It seems like Entourage was produced in the same way that it was intended to be enjoyed – in a rather relaxed and cordial fashion, without any real verve or energy.

Going for Gold...

Going for Gold…

To an outsider, Entourage might look a little odd. The show was never quite the most prestigious or best-loved drama on HBO. The show never quite competed with The Sopranos or The Wire or Game of Thrones. It never really had the cult cache that accrued to Oz or Deadwood. It never seemed like the network wanted as much from it as it wanted from Boardwalk Empire. However, the show was a tremendous success for the network. It ran for eight seasons and generated consistent low-level chatter about the possibility of a feature film.

Then again, this is not unprecedented. The obvious point of comparison to Entourage is not with HBO’s slate of prestigious dramas. The closest HBO show to Entourage is undoubtedly Sex and the City. In many respects, Entourage is just an inversion of Sex and the City; it is set on the West Coast instead of the East Coast, and centres around four young men instead of four young women. Both are essentially comedy dramas about characters trying to understand modern urban living for the upper-middle classes.

Crowd pleasing...

Crowd pleasing…

The comparisons don’t end there. Entourage replicates much of the feel of a gender-inverted Sex and the City. Both shows play as anthropological studies of life for stereotypical upper- or middle-class individuals. Indeed, both Entourage and Sex and the City began as fairly insightful glimpses into the worlds of their characters, before drifting more towards exaggeration and embellishment. What had once been (even a little bit) shocking was now passé and safe, with astute observations on contemporary life giving way to familiar routine.

In many respects, Entourage feels like an imitation of “laddishness” as filtered through the lens of people only familiar with the concept in an academic context. Sex is very much at the centre of the film, with the movie revelling in the female form. Our male leads inevitably hook up with fabulously beautiful women, who are presented to the camera as objects. Although there are a number of female parts, there are no defined female characters. Instead, the women seem to exist as signifiers of the male leads’ lifestyles; disappearing once they are no longer of interest.

Ari and graces...

Ari and graces…

It is surprising how safe this movie version of Entourage feels. Hollywood has a long history of mocking itself, as if desperate to prove that it has a sense of humour or self-awareness about its excesses and vulgarities. The satire can range from scathing to broad to affectionate. Although (or perhaps because) it drew from Mark Wahlberg’s experiences, Entourage was never particularly brutal in its exploration of contemporary Hollywood life. However, the movie feels completely toothless.

Although he is not technically the star of the show, Entourage belongs to Jeremy Piven. Piven plays former Hollywood agent Ari Gold. Piven won three Emmys for his work in the role, and earned another nomination. Gold is very much the stereotypical Hollywood deal maker. He is all bravado and testosterone. He is prone to pull phones off desks and to smash pictures. However, he always had a heart of gold hiding just beneath that brash exterior. Despite all the problems along the way, the cast could count on Ari.

Best buds, bar none...

Best buds, bar none…

By the time the character shows up in Entourage, the heart of gold is no longer tucked away. Instead, he wears it pinned to his sleeve. Ari Gold might curse and swear, but there is never any doubt about how much he cares for the four characters at the centre of the film. There are various jokes about Gold’s strained relationship with various Hollywood actors and players, but Gold always has his heart in the right place. In a recurring subplot, Gold keeps trying to decline a personal request from his former personal assistant; however, the film never has any doubts.

At the start of the film, Gold has taken a job at a major studio. He is no longer just an agent, he is a power broker. He is no longer gaming the system; he is the system. At the start of the film, he jokes that his wife made him promise to leave his testicles in Spain. Later on, he complains that his anger medication is making him impotent. There is the slightest trace of self-awareness about all this, as Entourage goes out of its way to avoid any hint of conflict or discord in Ari’s relationship with the four lead actors. It might be the most self-aware moment in the film.

Fight of his life...

Fight of his life…

For from mocking the studio system or internal politics, Entourage has an almost romantic affection for the way that Hollywood works. The central conflict of the film finds Ari trying to protect Vincent Chase from the cynicism of the Texan family backing his directorial debut. Chase is working on a modern adaptation of “Hyde.” Entourage presents the movie as an almost mythical mythical that crosses the summer and awards divide, a movie which can break the box office as it sweeps the Oscars. If only those rich Texans will support Vince and Ari’s artistic integrity.

(The film is decidedly unambiguous here. There is no artistic conflict at work. When the financial backers take exception to the finished film, it is revealed to be for the most petty of reasons. Billy Bob Thornton and Haley Joel Osmond are mostly wasted in these small roles, with only Thornton’s character afforded the slightest trace of humanity in his final scene. It is a small moment that does offer some challenge to Ari and the way that he does business, a challenge that the film never really acknowledges or counters.)

Entourage on tour...

Entourage on tour…

The rest of Entourage develops along these lines. Each of the four players is given a subplot that plays out as expected. The drama is inevitably personal, but there is never the threat of any real stakes. The closest that the film comes to genuinely pulling the rug out from any of the characters is in its treatment of Vincent’s brother, Johnny. Johnny faces the prospect of being cut out of “Hyde”, the film that could finally be his big break. There is another late stage development that also threatens the character. Both crises are handled with surprising ease.

Then again, that feels like the point. Entourage is light and fluffy. It is light that it barely registers. That seems to be the point. It is an excuse for a production team to reunite, bringing back a bunch of characters who enjoyed a long and successful run on television. There is nothing wrong with a feature film adaptation of an eight-season show feeling like a victory lap. There is very little here that will convert the heathens or even win back the disillusioned, but there is a very pleasant and relaxed atmosphere to the whole thing.

To live and die in L.A.

To live and die in L.A.

Appropriately enough, given the subject matter, it feels like an old cast reunion – an excuse to celebrate the old times without getting too heavy. There’s an open invitation, although the ticket might be wasted on those looking for an introduction.

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2 Responses

  1. Jeremy Piven will forever be a legend, Entourage was a great series and I can’t wait to see the film. I can definitely see this only being a film made purely for fan service

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