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'Entourage' as a movie: A very good idea, and here's some advice for it

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entourageImage Credit: Claudette Barius/HBO; Jeff Cravitz/FilmMagic.comIf you scoured the globe, I’m not sure that you’d find a more avid fan of Entourage than yours truly. To me, it’s the rare series that’s highly praised and, in an odd way, underrated. (By now, of course, it’s also become fashionable to knock it.)  The praise, which usually comes thick and fast (just like the show), is for all the right reasons. So, on occasion, is the criticism (like the spitballs hurled at the fact that the entire last season was organized so that the fate of nations seemed to be hanging on whether E would ever win Sloan back). So why would I say that Entourage is underrated? Because as a series that leads with its glib comic edge (in contrast to, say, the voluptuous high drama of The Sopranos or Mad Men), it is often thought of, even by its fans, as a light, cool, tasty, yet slightly disreputable pleasure: a perfect fluffy-naughty dessert. Entourage is the definition of “clever” — a word that can mean funny and whip-smart but that also carries an undercurrent of facile. The show is a celebration of the bad behavior of overgrown boys, something that doesn’t, to put it mildly, tend to get a lot of respect these days, even from those of us who enjoy it. Besides, the episodes are so damn short, who could possibly take them seriously?

To me, though, when Entourage is really zinging, what it evokes, more than anything, is the Hollywood comedies of the studio-system era – those movies, like His Girl Friday or Sullivan’s Travels, that were so lightning-fast and bedazzling in their repartee that they left you breathless. Okay, maybe Turtle is no Cary Grant (though Jerry Ferrara’s line readings have a wicked Neanderthal perfection), but what I’m saying is that if you look past the aura of the show, its infotainment gossip-raunch mystique, perhaps nothing in contemporary scripted comedy over the last 30 years has come as close to that spirit and speed, that tossed-off manic insouciance, as Entourage has. When the killer-sharp lines are flying back and forth like arrows in Ari’s office, I always imagine that Ben Hecht and Preston Sturges are watching up there in screwball-comedy heaven, and smiling. (I will, of course, be mocked for saying this, but I stand by it.)

For that reason, and for others too, I greeted the recent announcement that there’s going to be an Entourage movie with great delight. There was the usual scoffing in the blogosphere, of course, but I think it’s a terrific idea. Doug Ellin, the series’ creator and preeminent backstage auteur (he’s pictured, above right), and Mark Wahlberg, the series’ co-producer, certainly have what it takes to make an inside Hollywood movie that zigs and zags as blithely as the show. By now, though, it’s conventional wisdom that reconfiguring a hit series like Entourage into a successful big-screen entertainment is no automatic feat. There’s potential, but there are also looming pitfalls. Here are a few thoughts about what I think Ellin and Co. should do, and not do, to make the Entourage movie the triumph it deserves to be.

ariImage Credit: Claudette BariusMake it about the entertainment  business. This may sound like the “Duh!” advice of the year, but Entourage is a show about two things: (1) the way that movie stars, their hangers-on, and also their managers, agents, producers, and directors scheme and wrangle and manipulate within the backstabbing, image-obsessed political theater that is Hollywood; and (2) a wolf-pack quartet of merrily arrested horny dudes who, thanks mostly to the famous superstar who is their leader, do their best to turn every day into a great big hot-tub party filled with girls, girls, girls. The two sides of Entourage can’t, of course, be separated. Life-as-a-party isn’t a sidelight of Hollywood — to a degree, it’s what Hollywood is, and why people want to be there. But as fun as it can be to behold the magnificent ease with which Vince and his buddies satisfy their appetites, it can also get old. And now that the show has six seasons under its belt, with a seventh about to begin, it sort of has. Entourage has always been at its most inspired when it takes us deep into the thickets of the entertainment industry, that jungle of celebrity, gossip, media, and titanic ego clashes. The show has reveled in the process of making deals, and of making movies, with spot-on satirical detail. The movie should take that even further. Aim high: Make it a classic inside look at how the contemporary entertainment industry really works.

Stop thinking in episodes. The lamest possible way to make an Entourage movie would be, in essence, to just string five episodes together. Obviously, a two-hour movie needs to be self-contained in a way that a single sprawling TV season is not, but thinking episodically can become part of a television writer’s DNA, and Ellin and his team need to get that out of their systems, to essentially reprogram themselves. I suggest that they take, as their cinematic role models, two vastly different movies: Diner and The Player. The former because it turns the spirit of arrested male camaraderie into something rich and deep and funny and eternal, and the latter because it shows that an acerbic send-up of Hollywood can also be an excavation of the soul of Hollywood.

Jam-pack the movie with star cameos. Sure, this can be a gimmick, but Ellin has always had a sixth sense for how to exploit genuine stardom by melding it with fiction. He’s had priceless, knowing fun showcasing famous names from Peter Jackson to Anna Faris to Gary Busey because he knows how to use celebrity to enhance the true-life texture of a scene. (His inspirations on that score would seem to be The Player and The Larry Sanders Show.) If it were up to me, the Entourage movie would be an illusion-and-reality hall of mirrors for a celebrity-obsessive age.

Finally let E grow up…by growing him a pair. I’m sorry, but Kevin Connolly’s nice, earnest, look! I just got my junior agent merit badge! Eric has always struck me as far too sweet and boyish and sincere, too much of a eunuch, to have the stomach for life in Hollywood. Connolly seems like a quick and likable actor, but he has never given E so much as a hint of an inner whore — the quality of authentic conniving shamelessness that Jeremy Piven, as Ari, reveals to be not just funny but, in this particular industry, essential. E wooed Sloan like Prince Charming in a high-school play. If he’s going to survive, he needs to get his hands dirty. This movie is where he can do it.

Let Vince lead us to places that only a movie star can. Adrian Grenier is a lightweight actor who looks like the love child of Jim Morrison and Brigitte Bardot. He’s perfect as the star-hero of Entourage because we can’t quite tell if Vince is meant to have talent, and also because Grenier incarnates the easy, entitled vibe of a celebrity who knows that he always has instant access to pleasure. He’s breathing different air than the rest of us. But sometimes, it seems as if all Vince does is breathe and get laid. The Entourage movie should show us something about the life — or, dare I say it, the inner life — of a celebrity that we haven’t seen before. Take him, and us, behind some tightly closed doors.

Let Ari be Ari. Jeremy Piven’s cock-of-the-walk, I’m insulting as fast as I can! superagent is, of course, the engine of Entourage. That’s because Piven is brilliant (he puts his heart, and spleen, into every dis), and also because Doug Ellin has always used the character as a kind of acid-tongued screenwriter’s id — the guy who can utter the gutter Hollywood truths that no one else is allowed to. There are no real restrictions on HBO, but I hope that Ari, in the Entourage movie, lets fly as he never has before. I hope he’s so funny and inspired that he shocks himself.

So who besides me thinks that the Entourage movie is a good idea? And who doesn’t — that is, who thinks the show has already gotten too old? If you’re in the pro camp, what are your ideas for the movie? What do you very much want to see…and not see?