If HBO’s high-living series “Entourage” was like having an eminently cool Hollywood party beamed into your living room episode after episode, then think of this week’s “Entourage” feature film spinoff as the after-party. There’s an instantly familiar fabulosity to the big-screen exploits of hottie movie star Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier); his “boys” Eric (Kevin Connolly), Turtle (Jerry Ferrara), and Johnny Drama (Kevin Dillon); and Vince’s profanely go-go business handler, Ari Gold (three-time Emmy winner Jeremy Piven).
The guys don’t necessarily go bigger and bolder for their new showcase, which opens Wednesday and has been compared to HBO’s previous network mainstay turned multiplex attraction, “Sex and the City.” Instead, what we get is more of this Queens-bred crew being just as lovably bad as ever, a welcome bit of reassurance that while the program may have wrapped its seven-year run back in 2011, the hipster beat goes on.
Speaking by phone from California, “Entourage” writer-director and series creator Doug Ellin affirms that his aim was to reestablish that definitive LA wish-fulfillment vibe. “I think you’ve got to get back to what this is — a show about friendship in Hollywood,” Ellin says.
Cast and crew weren’t going to sweat every status-tweaking dramatic arc that a show inevitably explores in the course of eight seasons and 96 episodes. The ambiguous series finale had Vince jetting off to Paris to marry a woman he’d just met, while everyguy Eric was trying to work things out with pregnant, estranged girlfriend Sloane (Emmanuelle Chriqui), and overwound Ari was reluctantly trying out an Italian villa retirement. This new chapter hits reset on just about everything, save for E’s impending fatherhood. “We got to do a short film with Ari in Italy,” Ellin says of an ad spot produced with Cadillac, a regular cross-promotion partner on the show. “But I didn’t want to see a lot of setup and back story in the movie. I think we had to get running quickly.” Translated: Party on, boys.
An opening babefest aboard a luxury yacht off sunny Ibiza gives them an opportunity to get right to it, especially Vince, who’s already filing for an annulment. Mixing show business with pleasure as always, Vince takes a call from Ari, who’s segued from agent to studio exec and has just the project for his longtime client. Cool, says Vince — as long as this can be his directorial debut.
It’s storytelling mischief with some industry truth behind it, not to mention a chance for “Entourage” to reaffirm certain character virtues. Although we don’t get to see much more of Vince’s work as director and star of the post-apocalyptic “Hyde” than we did of him headlining “Aquaman” in season three, the fictional buzz is that he’s crafted something special. So what makes Vince a good director? “It’s like I say in the movie — look at Mel Gibson and Kevin Costner winning Oscars,” Ellin offers. Sure, but we feel compelled to press the point: What is it specifically about hang-loose, newly minted DGA member Vincent Chase? “He’s got artistic integrity, and he won’t do things that he doesn’t believe in,” he says. “A lot of people will do something because they think it will make money. But since the show started, this is a guy who has always chosen his passions over commerce.”
Vince’s bros always come before commerce, too — even his actual, goofy older brother, Drama, whose casting in a supporting role in “Hyde” is a pivotal “Entourage” plot point. Of course, in classic Drama style, just as his wannabe star finally seems to be on the rise, a recent FaceTime indiscretion of his goes comically, humiliatingly viral. “Yeah, this one ranks at the top of the list of Drama’s most embarrassing moments,” laughs Dillon, phoning amid an “Entourage”-ly swirl of premieres and NBA and NHL playoffs he’s been hitting with his costars. “You know, I’ll watch a lot of these with my parents, and my mom will just be mortified. Or she’ll be like, ‘What does “crossing swords” mean?’ ” (Fans of the show know only too well.)
Meanwhile, the movie also makes room for a view of the entertainment landscape that’s all business, in every sense. Meet Billy Bob Thornton’s deep-pocketed Texas financier — a role that Ellin wrote expressly for him — and the no-nonsense oil tycoon’s spoiled son, played by Haley Joel Osment. “Just as we did with the show, I wanted to be true to what’s going on in Hollywood, and outside financiers are a big thing now,” says Ellin. Laughing, he adds, “People have always made fun of Hollywood for not caring about movies, just the bottom line, but now it’s a whole other level of that. When Billy Bob says, ‘I’ve never seen any of these movies, and I don’t care to,’ that’s a line taken right out of the mouth of a financier I know.”
You can sense some of Vince’s business-be-damned outlook in the way Long Island native Ellin, 47, almost audibly cringes when asked about “Sex and the City,” and to what extent that franchise helped give “Entourage” its feature shot. The inevitable comparisons, he admits, “stressed me out. If I hear one more time about ‘Sex and the City,’ which made $600 million worldwide — I mean, I’m a fan and God bless ’em, but you’ve got to manage expectations.”
Still, Ellin adds, “I do think ‘Entourage’ was always a very cinematic show. From minute one, it was important to me to shoot it like a movie, not TV. We took a lot of care to make Los Angeles good-looking, we shot live at the Cannes Film Festival, we shot live at a U2 concert. So it almost made more sense for it to be in a theater than on a little screen.”
Count the star wattage from the series’ frequent real-life celebrity drop-ins as one more qualification. And that’s an element that makes the big leap, too. There’s the requisite cameo by executive producer Mark Wahlberg, whose own Dorchester-to-Beverly Hills experience famously informed the show. “He’s very organic to this world, so it’s no weird stunt thing,” says Ellin.
And then there’s suddenly ubiquitous UFC sensation Ronda Rousey, who gets to show her sensitive side — bruisingly, of course — as a love interest for newly slimmed-down Ferrara. “Ronda is so great, you’d never know what a badass she is,” Ellin says with a laugh. “Sitting on the set with her, you’re like, ‘I wonder if I could handle her?’ And then we did the scene with Ronda fighting Turtle, and you think, ‘Jeez. No.’ ”
But never mind that — who are the two ripped dudes beer-bonging in the background at the Malibu preview rager for “Hyde”? Could that be . . . Rob Gronkowski? And Julian Edelman? The gang’s old golfing buddy Tom Brady also makes an appearance, albeit in an unintentionally ironic context. (Like the rest of the Twitterverse, Brady can’t help gaping at the screwball scandal that zings Drama.)
You idly wonder what the boys might have said to their Patriot pals if Deflategate had already broken at the time the Malibu scene was shot. But this is where it becomes clear just how much Ellin’s characters reflect his sense of loyalty, his own old-neighborhood instinct to say, “Hey, man, I got your back.”
“I’m a diehard New York Giants fan, but I love Tom, and I don’t buy any of this garbage,” he says, seeming genuinely riled. “People do all sorts of things like this in football, but it’s like this mission to get Belichick and Brady, and it really bothers me.
“I think even Turtle would say that,” he adds. “He’d be rational enough to go, ‘I don’t want to take you down with nonsense, I want to take you down on the field.’ ”
Who knows, maybe Rousey vs. Turtle was just an undercard for something even wilder in “Entourage 2.” If so, you can bet it’ll be cinematic.
Tom Russo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.