The biggest stumbling block faced by TV series-turned-films is a tendency to go too big, taking characters that were appealing in small doses and overextending their allure. For Doug Ellin’s cineplex expansion of his HBO series “Entourage,” the writer-director finds a novel solution: Simply offer up an average episode, and inflate it to feature length with twice as many boobs and celebrity cameos as usual, to the point that the film might as well be called “Boobs and Famous People: The Movie.” Granted, “Entourage” was never exactly scared of boobs or gratuitous famous people when it was on TV, and the rest of the series’ strengths and weaknesses survive the theatrical transition intact. Sometimes funny, often dumb, with equal doses of inside-baseball references and broad bro-ish boorishness, “Entourage” will be loved by fans and despised by detractors, possibly for the same reasons. The returning cast members are clearly having fun, however, and their ability to evoke vicarious mid-2000s decadence will surely draw crowds.
The film opens on a stunning ocean vista, with superstar Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) mourning the dissolution of his nine-day marriage by lounging on a massive yacht off the coast of Ibiza with a flock of topless models. He’s propositioned by one of them, but has to ask her to sit tight for a few hours so he can meet up with his boys, who are arriving on a speedboat with beers in hand. These boys, of course, are his childhood buddies from Queens: best friend-turned-manager Eric (Kevin Connolly), driver-turned-tequila magnate Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) and ne’er-do-well older brother-turned … well, ne’er-do-well older brother Johnny “Drama” Chase (Kevin Dillon).
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In any other film, an opening scene like this would be followed by either a DEA bust or the hapless protagonist waking up from a dream, but this is “Entourage,” where everything is exactly as it seems. The sequence actually does a pretty good job of proscribing the film’s central concerns — conspicuous consumption, camaraderie verging on co-dependency, low-stakes conflict and a guiding principle of bros before boobs — so much so that the Piers Morgan-narrated catch-up montage that follows is totally unnecessary.
But Vincent has more on his mind than just boobs. He’s convinced his onetime agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven), now the head of an entire studio, to let him try his hand directing a $100 million movie, “Hyde.” (Evidently featuring Chase as a superhuman dubstep DJ who fights government oppression alongside Calvin Harris, it looks pretty bad, even for a Vincent Chase film.) He’s gone over budget, which means Ari has to schlep to Texas to wheedle more funds out of Larsen McCredle (Billy Bob Thornton), the grumpy oligarch who’s underwriting the studio’s slate. Before he’ll sign a check, however, Larsen dispatches his vulgar, louche son Travis (Haley Joel Osment, enjoying himself as much as anyone) to L.A. to check out the rough cut, and he threatens to ruin the film with his inane notes and editing demands.
As on the show, this central conflict fades in and out of view as each character deals with their own particular mini-crisis. Eric is awaiting the birth of his first child with ex-girlfriend Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui), but has a much tougher time dealing with the logistical complications of sleeping with every swimsuit model he sees. Vincent pursues a relationship with model Emily Ratajkowski, and Turtle makes overtures to UFC fighter Ronda Rousey. (Compared with the sexual politics on display elsewhere, pairing one of the boys with a woman who could literally kill him with her index finger has to count as progressive.) Drama stresses over auditions and worries that his role in “Hyde” will be cut, while Ari has to deal with studio politics, the unwelcome Texan collaborator, and couples therapy sessions with his long-suffering wife (Perrey Reeves).
These strands offer wildly varying returns. Ari’s scenes are very funny, and Drama’s travails are pretty funny. (Dillon and Piven both display some thoroughly sharp comic timing, taking what could easily be one-joke characters and building them into three- or four-joke characters.) Turtle and Vinnie’s subplots are just sort of there, while Eric’s subplot is so mind-meltingly dull that it stops the film in its tracks. Fortunately, no dilemma is allowed to linger for too long before the boys reconvene for quick banter and parties with dancing girls, in case anyone in the audience has forgotten what boobs look like.
At no point does anyone involved with the film ever take this too seriously, and as long as one takes it in the same spirit, it’s perfectly enjoyable. Writer-director Ellin has clearly put every penny of his production budget up onscreen, and each well-photographed frame is suffused with shiny consumer goods and bright colors. Of the 42 different famous people officially credited as playing themselves, most simply wave at the camera, though rapper T.I. gets the biggest laugh, business tycoon Warren Buffett is the most unexpected presence, and executive producer Mark Wahlberg manages to plug both the “Ted” sequel and his reality show “Wahlburgers” in his minute-long cameo, which is pretty shameless even by “Entourage” standards.
As the pic winds down, however, one starts to gain some respect for the purity of its overwhelming self-regard. Hollywood has always displayed a puppy-dog eagerness to celebrate itself, but that celebration is usually gussied up with odes to the transformative power of movies, or portraits of Tinseltown as the great repository of dreamers and artists. “Entourage” simply celebrates the awesomeness of the lives/fantasy lives of the very people making the movie, which is kind of refreshing in its honesty. In the film, the only real threat to this world of easy opulence, flashy cars, award shows, top-shelf booze and boobs is the flyover-country interloper, whose rubbish tastes and rustic ways the power brokers sneer at, while always aware that they’re totally dependent on his money in the end. Perhaps there’s a smarter-than-expected subtext here.