In the glossy, elite Los Angeles of Doug Ellin’s Entourage, everything revolves around crotches. An inopportune penis-publicizing involving hapless D-lister Johnny Drama contributes a tertiary plot point in the new feature-length sequel to Ellin’s HBO series. And genitals guide every other facet of the story, albeit in less direct ways. The film’s main McGuffin is a much-sought-after vagina, prized because it belongs to model Emily Ratajkowski. (Reducing her to her anatomy may seem crass, but the film does contain more dialogue from men expressing how crazy-smokin’-hot Ratajkowski is than dialogue actually spoken by the actress.) Pursuit of a vagina belonging to MMA fighter Ronda Rousey draws Turtle into a high-speed car chase, and later, hand-to-hand combat. When ticking-time-bomb power agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) can’t reach orgasm, his penis failure drives him to couples’ counseling, and compels him to reconsider his career choices. Johnny Drama unknowingly spells out the film’s subtext when reminding his brother, superstar actor-turned-director Vinny Chase, “Everything we do is to also get laid.” Hollywood is an industry town all right, but not for the entertainment biz. Everyone’s in the business of servicing and maintaining their private parts.
And yet for all of the obsessive fussing over penises and the vaginas they crave, Entourage is really a story about balls. It’s about the men who own those balls, the measures they take to earn them, and the little contests they set up to determine whose testicles are larger and more powerful. The series began with a modest interest in commentary on how the cinematic sausage gets made, but over eight highly lucrative season, the balls grew in size until they eclipsed everything else on the show. By the time the movie arrived in theaters, the balls were big enough to take up the entire screen.
Before the televised series devolved into a weekly salute to the lifestyles of the rich and vapid, it occasionally engaged with real themes, none more frequently than the myriad dimensions of masculinity. In early seasons, the program vaunted Vinny and his pals’ loyalty to one another and their sincerity in the face of Hollywood phoniness as the Platonic ideal of bro-hood. Ellin’s film picks up right where the series left off; Entourage treats the film industry as a crucible where men are forged and proven, but believes the true measure of a bro comes from a deeper, more meaningful place. Or rather, he would like us all to believe that. The film’s lessons on what does or does not maketh man are too inconsistent and too permissive of misbehavior from their lovably incorrigible leading men to support any critical perspectives on gender and the mores of manhood. Merely using the word “gender” when discussing Entourage feels like the first step down a road of futility.
The saga of Vinny Chase and the boys from Queens came from the humblest of beginnings: Mark Wahlberg claimed the show’s core concept came from his assistant asking to tape the bro-time between Wahlberg and his boyhood pals, describing them as “hilarious.” While the fraternal love bonding Wahlberg with his buddies from the neighborhood made up Entourage’s foundation, Ellin added a layer of inside-baseball showbiz satire. It was nothing especially cutting; for the most part, good-natured actors would roll through to portray slightly exaggerated versions of themselves. (Memorably, Bob Saget appeared as a foul-mouthed, drug-addled hedonist far removed from Full House’s kindly, sexless Danny Tanner.)
But Ellin also lightly caricatured the unchecked brute force that runs wild behind the scenes of the dream factory, the ruthless, distinctly male intensity that gets contracts signed and movies made. In the series and film alike, the world belongs to men who make things happen. Ari, in particular, typifies the untethered, chest-beating machismo that drags projects out of development hell. He does anything to get what he wants, things like landing his personal chopper on a studio chairman’s front lawn, or having security forcibly escort a financier off the studio lot. Usually, he does these things because he must, but the little crook in Jeremy Piven’s shit-eating grin clearly telegraphs that on some level, he also does such things because he can. He matches Hollywood’s rampant conspicuous consumption on the other end; think of it as conspicuous production. In Ari’s own characteristically self-aggrandizing words, “I don’t worry, I just win.”
In paraphrasing DJ Khaled, he inadvertently captures the highly competitive nature of the biz. To Ari and the überagents who scramble around Los Angeles to keep their clients happy, life in Hollywood is a game won by whoever can be the loudest, angriest, and, implicitly, the most testicularly blessed. While the Ari Gold character directly riffs on Endeavor Agency founder Ari Emanuel, the recent slew of hacked emails from Sony confirmed that megaproducers like Scott Rudin and Harvey Weinstein fit a similar mold. Male bluster makes the town go; not unlike the twisted stock-market Sodom of The Wolf Of Wall Street, victory in Entourage’s Hollywood goes to the guy willing to be the biggest dick, literally and figuratively. Most phone calls end with one or both parties telling the other to fuck themselves.
But just after Ellin has posited the vulcanizing fires of film production as the quintessential trial of manhood, he backtracks. After a solid hour of gratuitous breasts and unrepentant assholery, the film declares that the only thing uniting real men is that they take care of their families, blood-bound and otherwise. This idea—the guiding moral in a film originally conceived around the power of male friendship, which usually entails questionably good-natured shit-talking, and mooching off whoever might be the rich one that week—is a massive hypocrisy nested within a network of smaller hypocrisies. In a pivotal scene, Ari realizes that his job cannot possibly be worth the strain it’s put on his marriage, and backs out. Lesson learned, right? Until five minutes later, when he invests his own money in Vinny Chase’s latest picture, then positions himself for an even better job in the studio system.
Each character has his own version of this regress. Animate plank of wood Eric, for example, gets in trouble with two women after they discover that he bedded them both within a 24-hour period. (Though that second one was hardly his fault—his best pal Drama secretly dosed him with MDMA and boner pills!) To complicate his insipid love life further, E is also juggling Lamaze classes as a dad-to-be with former girlfriend Sloan. Ellin is clearly chastising E by dealing him a comeuppance from his two conquests, and instructing him to do his fatherly duties as the sperm-generator responsible for Sloan’s unborn child. There’s no way to take this instructive retribution seriously, however, not with celebrations of diametrically opposed ideas crowding the rest of the film. Entourage’s creators punishing a character for disrespecting these women while practically using bare breasts as set-markers is staggering. Ellin wants to have it both ways, to party hardy and luxuriate in a vast sea of exposed female flesh, but then pretend to be a good ol’ boy who just cares about his wife and his mama.
Examining the film’s one true antagonist is helpful when parsing out the Entourage’s disorganized bro-ethics. Haley Joel Osment joins the cast as Travis McCredle, the shiftless Texan son of Vinny and Ari’s oil-baron financier. First and foremost, the audience knows Travis is no good because he’s weird-looking, and people who are anything less than fabulously attractive are automatically objects of scorn in the Entourage universe. Beyond that, however, Travis inherited all his money from his father. A self-made man, Vinny embodies the manly virtues of independence and self-sufficiency. (Which is, again, pretty rich coming from a show about dudes glomming onto their moneyed friends.) Travis’ birth into privilege is a token of shame that diminishes his legitimacy as a man. But worst of all, Travis competes with Vince for Emily Ratajkowski’s affections, and allows his crush to color his business dealings. That is to say, he places the romantic attentions of a woman, or a “ho,” over the interests of his business, his money, and his father—known in layperson’s terms as his “bro.”
Hollywood adheres to the rule of the jungle, but Entourage operates under the cloudy strictures of the Bro Code. In a cracked-mirror sort of way, Ellin approaches filmmaking here the same way Kubrick satirized nuclear war in Dr. Strangelove: as something the big boys do to blow off steam. When Sterling Hayden’s General Jack D. Ripper can’t get it up, he concocts a Commie-fluoridation conspiracy to explain his impotence away. Ari Gold, conversely, gets his groove back by pouring all his money and manpower into one last blockbuster, which then draws Ultron-level money and raves to match. What makes Dr. Strangelove a classic and Entourage a dark chapter of human history is that the former pricked the male egos and clapped in delight as they farted out all their hot air. Ellin’s film celebrates wanton consumption and forceful corporate maneuvering as expressions of masculinity, then doesn’t, then kind of does, then gets bored and leaves to go pop Cristal with Mark Cuban. Entourage wants viewers to hear what it says, not see what it does. The script’s ceaseless yammering about fraternal bonds and their attendant code of honor rings hollow when decidedly un-gentlemanly behavior is the project’s main selling point. Ultimately, being a man under Doug Ellin’s pen works like sex. It’s only okay when hot people are doing it.