We all have our guilty pleasures. From 2004 to 2011 one of mine was watching the multi-award-winning HBO TV series “Entourage” on Sunday nights.
Now one might think that’s because this middle-aged man enjoyed all those shots of scantily-clad or naked women that paraded across the small screen in each episode. Nope. It’s not that I mind looking at beautiful women, but I’m well past the drooling stage of teenage males (unlike Johnny, Kevin Dillon’s comical character in the show). And my wife enjoyed watching the show as much as I did, so I think there’s more than salacious slices of T&A in the concept created by Doug Ellin and inspired by the experiences of actor/director Mark Wahlberg. Wahlberg co-produces and appears in the film version of the show directed by Ellin that opens nationwide on Wednesday.
“Entourage” is a guilty pleasure because I can see the trappings of celebrity wealth and fame while laughing at just how outrageous it all is. Hollywood has long been the epicenter of spectacular self-indulgence in American culture; arguably it’s our substitute for a royal family.
And it’s also about male friendship, to which I can obviously relate. Vincent Chase (the ever-cool Adrian Grenier) has surrounded himself with the guys he grew up with in Queens; besides Johnny, his half-brother with the apt nickname of “Drama,” there’s Eric (strong straight-man Kevin Connolly), who went from managing a Sbarro to overseeing Vince’s acting career, and Turtle (an engaging-as-always Jerry Ferrara), whose character arc as Vinny’s buddy and driver has included slimming down and making a large, undisclosed-figure amount of money with a Tequila company. Over the course of the show, and the new film, their interactions with each other ring true even if you’re not from New York or in show business.
Before I sound too serious about this, my favorite character is foul-mouthed agent Ari (played with perfect manic energy levels by invigorating Jeremy Piven). Seeing him lose it allows us to release our own secret frustrations about not having everything done the way we want it done; his long-suffering but emotionally durable wife Melissa (played beautifully by Perrey Reeves) is thankfully around much of the time to bring her charging rhino of a husband down when he becomes a danger to all and especially himself. (Rex Lee’s loveable Lloyd is no longer Ari’s also-suffering assistant, but he’s back with the bonus that his character is about to tie the knot with Greg Louganis. Series regulars Debi Mazar, Constance Zimmer and Rhys Cioro also make welcome returns as publicist Shauna Roberts, studio exec Dana Gordon and spaced-out director Billy Walsh.)
In the film Ari is back from a short retirement to head a studio. His first project is a starring vehicle for Vince, who insists on directing as well. The result is a film called “Hyde” which is a cyber-world reworking of Robert Louis Stevenson’s oft-filmed “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” When Vince goes over budget Ari has to pay a visit to the Texas money man Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton, who can play such roles in his sleep) who is writing the checks for the production. He sends his spoiled son Travis (Haley Joel Osment, now in his late 20s and a far cry from his “I see dead people” character persona) to Hollywood on his behalf, and not surprisingly complications ensue, in this instance involving real-life model/actress Emily Ratajkowski. (Like the show the film has plenty of folks playing themselves; in addition to Ratajkowski and Wahlberg we see Warren Buffett, Gary Busey, George Takei, Mark Cuban and several other familiar faces.)
There are subplots like Eric’s complicated relationship with pregnant ex-girlfriend Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui), Turtle’s awkward attempts to woo UFC Bantamweight Champ Ronda Rousey out of the ring for a date and Johnny’s very embarrassing entry in the world of viral videos. These threads are ones that tie it to the series, but like the rest of the film one can watch and get what’s going on without having seen a single episode on TV. Ellin (who co-wrote the script with Rob Weiss) keeps things on track, though the pacing may seem rather relaxed for its overall topic.
“Entourage” should be viewed as the fun slice of voyeuristic decadence that it is – a summer cocktail infused with guilty pleasure and a smattering of buddy pic – that’s just right for the popcorn flick season. Welcome back, boys – it’s nice to take my mind off 21st Century worries with your ticklish take on Tinseltown.
Entourage opens in Nashville and elsewhere on Wednesday; the film is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America’s Classification and Rating Administration “for pervasive language, strong sexual content, nudity and some drug use” and runs one hour and 44 minutes. Check for locations and showtimes on Fandango or MovieTickets.com.