In theaters Wednesday, June 3
3 stars (out of 4 stars)
In the immortal words of Johnny “Drama” Chase . . . Victory!!!
HBO’s long-running hit comedy about a movie star and his childhood buddies living large in Hollywood is now living large on the big screen. And like a true VIP event, it’s flashy, star-studded, and a rollicking good time.
What a relief that nobody has tried to reinvent the wheel on Vince’s convertible: If you liked the TV show, you’ll sit back and smile at the movie (and, uh, probably look at your watch at the 30-minute mark). And if you never caught the foul-mouthed, big-hearted man-boys on the small screen, Piers Morgan blithely recaps the entire series right after the familiar opening credits. Boom, you’ve just bypassed the awful Medellin era.
Of course, even the show’s most ardent fans would be hard-pressed to recall what transpired in the 2011 finale. Perhaps that’s why writer-director Doug Ellin kicks off the action just days after the cliffhanger. The boys haven’t had time to stray far: Above-the-title actor Vincent Chase (Adrian Grenier) just ended his quickie-marriage to a Vanity Fair writer and now wants to refocus his career by directing a movie. His big bro Johnny (Kevin Dillon) wants in. Turtle (Jerry Ferrara) is now making serious coin as a tequila mogul. And diminutive manager Eric (Kevin Connolly) is back on the outs with baby-mama-to-be Sloan (Emmanuelle Chriqui) because he slept with her ex-stepmom, Melinda Clarke. (Side note: Somebody please cast Clarke as Cookie Lyon’s new rival on Empire ASAP.)
Problems arise months later. Vince’s flick — an epic called Hyde, based on the classic novel and not the former hot spot — needs more money, and nobody has seen the raw footage yet. That adds up to infinite agita for volcanic agent turned studio head Ari Gold (three-time Emmy winner Jeremy Piven, still so cutting and brilliant). Now Ari has to fly to Texas and grovel for millions from the studio’s financiers, a rowdy father and son duo (Billy Bob Thornton and a most decidedly grown-up Haley Joel Osment).
Enough industry-speak. Who ever watched Entourage for the hard-hitting story lines? Vince gets the movie! Vince loses the movie! Vince gets the movie back! The movie is a hit! The movie tanks! The frivolous merry-go-round of this alleged A-lister’s career was always B-list enjoyment at best. The green-eyed Grenier just lacks the charisma and screen presence to be considered a fictional Leonardo DiCaprio. Piven remains the Gold standard of acting among this group.
What this franchise does best (and gets absolutely right) is selling a glamorous, behind-the-velvet-rope L.A. lifestyle. After all, life is pretty damn sweet if you’re a big-time star. Or friends with one. One bash at Turtle’s new mansion is a chaotic blast as much for the hilarious shenanigans— Drama concocts a cocktail made of “Molly, water, and a touch of Viagra” — as the celeb spotting. Look down at your smartphone and you’ll miss Pharrell Williams, Mark Cuban, Mike Tyson, Jon Favreau, David Arquette and Russell Wilson, as well as series favorites Bob Saget, Gary Busey, and Andrew Dice Clay. This is the rare film in which the cameos fold neatly into the narrative. No more names will be revealed here; just know that this may be Jessica Alba’s most winning work in years.
Maybe by the sequel, though, Ellin will figure out what to do with the women hanging out on the chaise lounges by the pool. Nobody expects this to be Sex and The City: West Coast, but the female characters continue to fall into two categories: Babe and Shrew. Mrs. Ari (Perrey Reeves) in particular is an unlikeable combination of both. (She’s been married to the hothead for decades and continues to be aghast when he takes a phone call during couple’s counseling.) Meanwhile, “Blurred Lines" model Emily Ratajkowski — in a small part as Vince’s new love interest — was cast solely for her eye-candy value. Seven leering men comment on her hotness. As in, her looks are an actual plot point.
Anyway. At least the boys bring the fun and, why yes, a little bit of heart. Parties and deals and over-budgeted film productions come and go, but these bonds have stayed tight. There’s a true sweetness in seeing the old gang together. They don't need to hug it out to prove that the love is still there.