“ENTOURAGE” (2015) Review

 

“ENTOURAGE” (2015) Review

When I first learned that a movie continuation of the HBO 2004-2011 series, “ENTOURAGE”, was scheduled to hit the theaters for the summer of 2015, I responded to the news with a shrug. Quite honestly, I was not interested. I would have skipped the movie if my relatives had insisted upon seeing it. So, I was stuck . . . and I saw the movie in the theaters.

Picking up some time after its final season, “ENTOURAGE” focused upon movie star Vincent “Vince” Chase’s attempt to direct his movie career to a new path, following the failure of his nine-day marriage. His former agent-turned-studio chief, Ari Gold, offers Vince the lead in a new movie called “Hyde”. The latter agrees to star in the film, only if he is allowed to direct. Also, Vince ensures that his older brother, actor Johnny “Drama” Chase, is cast in a major supporting role. While “Hyde” is in the middle of post-production, Vince asks for an additional $10 million to finish it, despite being over budget. Ari watches a rough cut of the film and realizes that the studio might have a major hit on its hands. He flies to Texas to meet the movie’s co-financiers; Larsen McCredle and his son Travis; in order to get the additional $10 million. A reluctant Larsen sends son Travis back to Los Angeles with Ari to see a cut of the film at Vince’s private screening. Although Vince never gets around to showing the cut at his screening party, Travis does see the film . . . and declares it a disaster. He believes the only way to save the film is to re-shoot it without Vince as lead actor or director.

Meanwhile, Vince’s personal manager and best friend, Eric “E” Murphy, seemed to be having girl trouble. While helping ex-girlfriend prepare for the birth of their child, his womanizing around the Hollywood/Beverly Hills community is attracting negative attention from current and past girlfriends. Vince’s other best friend, Salvatore “Turtle” Assante, seemed to be in a conundrum over whether or not to seriously date mixed martial artist/actress Ronda Rousey. And while “Drama” is worried over whether or not his part in “Hyde” will make the final cut, he veers into an adulterous affair with a married woman, who has a dangerous and vindictive husband.

“ENTOURAGE” did not fare well at the box office. It garnered negative reviews and was not even able to earn twice its budget. One of the main complaints of the film was those movie audiences who never saw the HBO television series would not be able to understand the plot or its characters. My experience with the television series is very limited. Although I enjoyed them, I only saw a handful of episodes from either Season Seven or Eight. But despite my limited memories of the series, I did not want to see this film. But you know what? I am glad I saw it. Because I rather enjoyed it.

Let me be frank. “ENTOURAGE” proved to be a rather fun little souffle among the major blockbusters, this summer. I have no problems with this. I do not demand that every film be some heavily special-effects driven action/fantasy film or a contender for an Academy Award nomination. And my sister, who had never seen a single episode of the series before she saw the film, actually managed to understand the film . . . and enjoy it as well. This was due to producer-director-writer Doug Ellin’s decision to recap the five major characters’ past in a sequence that featured a news story about Vince and his co-horts on one of those entertainment news shows that I had stopped watching over a decade-and-a-half ago. Equally entertaining was the movie’s physical setting. Southern California never looked as good as it did in this film. Thanks to Steven Fierberg’s sharp and colorful photography, Los Angeles looked more gorgeous than it usually does on a clear and sunny day.

As he had done for the television series, Ellin did a pretty good job of weaving the main story regarding Vince’s film with the movie’s other subplots. Mind you, I enjoyed those subplots involving Eric’s womanizing, Turtle’s budding relationship with Ronda Rousey and Johnny’s disastrous affair. But I really enjoyed the movie’s main narrative regarding Vince’s movie, “HYDE”. First of all, I found the entire plot something of a nail biting affair, as Ari moved heaven and earth to save Vince’s film. And second of all, Ari and Vince’s struggles with the crude and pushy young Travis McCredle reminded me of how time and again, many Hollywood productions have been compromised by their financial backers’ lack of artistry.

The four actors portraying the old friends from Queens – namely Kevin Connolly, Adrian Grenier, Kevin Dillon and Jerry Ferrara proved that even after four years, their screen chemistry remained strong as ever. I especially enjoyed Dillon’s performance as the insecure Johnny “Drama”. “ENTOURAGE” featured its usual share of celebrity cameos . . . well, perhaps more than I cared. Among my favorite appearances were Jessica Alba, Andrew Dice Clay, David Faustino, Armie Hammer, Chad Lowe, Bob Saget, and Richard Schiff. Ronda Rousey really surprised me by showing she could give a competent performance, even if she was portraying herself. I also enjoyed Emmanuelle Chriqui’s performance as Eric’s warm, yet no-nonsense ex-girlfriend, Sloan McQuewick. But one my two favorite performances came from – not surprisingly – Jeremy Piven, who was sharp and funny as ever as Hollywood slickster Ari Gold. The other performance that really impressed me came from Haley Joel Osment, who was fantastic and spot on as the crude and arrogant young Travis McCredle.

Was there anything about “ENTOURAGE” that I disliked? Honestly? Well . . . yes. I disliked the movie’s mid-end credit scene. It was nice that Ari’s former assistant Lloyd got married. But otherwise, the sequence seemed out of place. I realize that it has become traditional for the Disney Studios to add a mid-credit scene for their big films. But I saw no reason for Doug Ellin to add one for “ENTOURAGE”. It was just . . . meh. And Lloyd’s wedding could have been part of the main narrative. One would think that I regard this film as some kind of comedic masterpiece. Trust me, I do not. I never had any high expectations for“ENTOURAGE” and found myself surprised by how much I found it entertaining. That is all.

It seemed a shame that “ENTOURAGE” laid an egg at the box office. Then again, the early-to-mid summer struck me as the wrong time to release a piece of fluff like this film. I would have released it during August or September. Otherwise, I found the movie colorful and entertaining. And it was nice to see that the five leads still managed to generate a good deal of chemistry.

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“THE HANGOVER, PART II” (2011) Review

“THE HANGOVER, PART II” (2011) Review

Two years after the success of the blockbuster comedy, “THE HANGOVER”, director Todd Phillips followed up with a sequel about the lead characters’ adventures in Bangkok, Thailand, following another disastrous bachelor’s party. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis returned to star in this sequel. 

In this sequel, Phil Wenneck, Doug Billings, and Alan Garner accompany Stuart “Stu” Price to Thailand to celebrate his upcoming wedding a woman of Thai descent named Lauren at a beach resort outside of Bangkok. Much to Alan’s dismay, Lauren’s younger brother, a medical student named Teddy, joins them. Despite disapproval from Lauren’s father, who compares Stu to rice porridge, the wedding party goes according to plan. Unfortunately, the four friends and Teddy take part in a mini bachelor’s party on the beach. Although Phil insures that the beer they are drinking had not been tampered by the infantile Alan; he, Stu and Alan awaken the following morning at a dirty Bangkok hotel. Apparently, Doug had left the party a little earlier to join his wife at their hotel room. They also discover gangster Leslie Chow (whom they first met in Las Vegas) and a chain-smoking capuchin monkey. Stu has a face tattoo and Alan’s head is completely shaven. However, the three friends cannot find Teddy. They only find his severed finger. And as Chow begins recalling the events of the previous night, his heart stops after snorting a line of cocaine. Panicked, the trio dispose of Chow’s body in an ice machine and begin their search for the missing Teddy.

In conclusion, I must admit that I found “THE HANGOVER, PART II” very entertaining. One, I loved the Thailand setting and cinematographer Lawrence Sher’s photography of the locations. Two, director Todd Phillips did a great job in maintaining the movie’s pacing, ensuring that I would never fall asleep. Three, the chemistry between the main cast seemed as potent as ever. I noticed that Phillips continued the chemistry between Cooper, Helms and Galifianakis from the first movie. However, I was a little disappointed that Justin Bartha did not take part in the trio’s adventures in this movie. Instead of being the missing person (as he was in the first film), his character left the bachelor party before it all went to hell.

However, Phillips did find a way to bring back Ken Jeong as gangster Leslie Chow. And he was as funny as ever. In fact, one of Jeong’s funniest scenes featured the trio and Chow’s arrival at a high-class hotel restaurant to meet an American gangster (and undercover Interpol agent) named Kingsley. Other funny scenes include Stu’s discovery that he had drug-induced sex with a Kathoey prostitute, Phil’s reaction to getting shot by a Russian gangster, Mike Tyson’s surprise appearance and performance at Stu and Lauren’s wedding, and a crazy car chase through the streets of nighttime Bangkok.

But was “THE HANGOVER, PART II” funnier or just as funny as the 2009 movie? I can honestly say . . . no. The first twenty minutes of the film did not strike me as particularly funny, no matter how much humor Scot Armstrong, Craig Mazin and Todd Phillips tried to wring from the script. The ending seemed a bit too cheesy and sentimental at times. And why on earth did they include a scene in which the trio and Chow dropped off the badly wounded monkey (who had been shot in the stomach) at a veterinary clinic. The movie also featured an appearance from Paul Giamatti, who was far from funny in his role as fake gangster/undercover Interpol agent Kingsley. And this was a major disappointment, considering Giamatti’s talent for humor. And I wish that Nick Cassavetes’ cameo as a Bangkok tattoo artist could have been a bit funny. I suspect that if Mel Gibson had been in the role, he would have garnered a lot more laughs. I could say the same for Mason Lee (Ang Lee’s son), who made a less funnier missing person than Bartha. As for Nirut Sirijanya, he seemed downright humorless as Stu’s disapproving father-in-law-to-be. I realize that his character was humorless, but so was Melissa, Stu’s former girlfriend. But actress Rachael Harris portrayed the humorless Melissa with a great deal of comedic skill. I cannot say the same for Sirijanya.

Many people had complained that “THE HANGOVER, PART II” more or less followed the same plot formula as “THE HANGOVER”. And they would be right. Like in the first film, the characters experienced the following:

*a hangover from drugs fed to them by the socially challenged Alan
*a missing person who is locked in some space at the hotel they had awaken
*Stu experiences a physical impairment (a tattoo in this film, a missing tooth in the last)
*Stu becomes involved with a prostitute
*theft of someone’s pet animal (in this case, a monkey)
*Phil is hospitalized
*a red herring situation regarding the missing person
*Stu sings
*Phil is forced to admit not knowing the location of missing person
*Stu figures out the location of the missing person
*

Well, you get the drift. The only reason I am willing to tolerate this lack of originality on the screenwriters’ parts is due to the fact that I still managed to enjoy the movie. Bradley Cooper, Ed Helms and Zach Galifianakis not only proved that they were still funny, but could also be an effective comedy team. Thanks to the movie’s humorous story and performances, and the exotic Thai locations, I am certainly looking forward to the DVD release of “THE HANGOVER, PART II”.