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`Entourage' boys need to be growing

June 17, 2007|Jon Caramanica | Special to The Times

VINCENT CHASE wins because no one's ever told him he couldn't. He (like Adrian Grenier, who plays him) has piercing eyes, tousled hair, slightly pudgy cheeks and an easy gait. Ostensibly, he can act, but mostly he's a sort-of sexual idiot savant, unable to control or ignore his primal pull on women. Much like its protagonist, "Entourage" is easy and carefree and blithe. Trouble rarely besets the show, which means that no matter how compelling Vincent and his extended crew -- manager Eric, brother Johnny, layabout Turtle -- are, they're never complicated, and therefore they never grow.

Arrested adolescence is cute but naive. On tonight's fourth-season premiere (HBO, 10 o'clock), which airs inexplicably just two weeks after the conclusion of the third, Vince's charm and swagger have inadvertently taken on the shape of extreme Hollywood hubris: independently financing a passion project. Last season's finale began with one last cigarette on the veranda of the outsized home Vinnie and the boys have resided in since his first hints of stardom. He sold the house to buy the rights to "Medellin," the Pablo Escobar biopic he'd been chasing for over a season. (They're working-class kids from Queens; it's no shock that they'd want to make the next "Godfather"/"Scarface.")

Selling the house was a psychological gambit -- not toward self-destruction but rebirth. Not only does he force everyone to begin to learn to fend for themselves should he fail, but he also shakes himself from his cocoon, rejecting safety.

Certainly Vince must be passionate about "Medellin" -- in tonight's episode, which covers the entirety of the film shoot, he dons slightly preposterous fat makeup and an unconvincing mustache to play the drug lord. He is also homeless and broke -- or, in Hollywood-speak, living at the Mondrian off his Black Card. In short, he's all in, as is the rest of the crew. His brother Johnny (Kevin Dillon) buys an expensive new apartment, hoping his TV series remains a hit; manager Eric (Kevin Connolly) shelves his relationship with Sloane (Emanuelle Chriqui) while struggling to keep "Medellin," his producing debut, on track.

Girls, stay out

BUT then, Sloane never really stood a chance. Women have always served as a rebuke to the gang mentality of "Entourage." Last season, Vince tried switching to a new agent, Amanda (Carla Gugino), but sexual tensions led him right back to the warm bro-hug of his longtime rep Ari (Jeremy Piven, still spectacularly bursting out of expensive suits). Aside from his all-consuming romance with Mandy Moore in Season 2, Vince's emotional palette has been lacking, all the better to keep the nest intact. (At least the foursome on "Sex and the City" had their own lives and jobs -- Vince + 3 could learn something from them.)

The root of this season's tension is yet to be highlighted, though the reception of "Medellin" figures to be key. The first episode is shot in documentary style, intercut with cast interviews about the disordered production -- a nod to "Living in Oblivion" or "Lost in La Mancha" or maybe just to DVD extras. Director Billy Walsh (Rhys Coiro), who helmed Vince's indie smash "Queens Blvd.," is back, making pronouncements about art and nicknaming everyone ("Suit," "Trust Fund Baby," etc.). He's fun to watch -- there is a spectacular scene next week in which he races a motorcycle through a warehouse filled with fluttering strips of film dangling from the ceiling -- but he poses no threat to the crew's glue.

What would it take then to create a true rupture in the show's seams? Maybe it'll come from outside -- Ari's wife (Perrey Reeves), known only as Mrs. Ari (!), could cheat on him (And why shouldn't she? Apart from a few fleeting moments of new-money passion, their relationship is frigid), shredding Ari's already frayed sanity. Turtle could find something to legitimately succeed at -- his half-managing of rapper Saigon and half-dating of car-hottie Kelly (Lauren London) were meager, stilted efforts at best.

"Entourage" will begin to truly transcend if and when the show's true love affair, between Vince and Eric, comes to an end. There's a hint of dissent at the end of next week's episode, when it comes time to make hard decisions about "Medellin." If Eric isn't there to support Vince, can the actor be anything more than a pretty punch line? And if "Medellin" flops, what will become of Vince -- still luscious but broke and a pariah? Certainly it's much easier to be squeezed out of Hollywood than to squeeze in. And if Vince can't find sex, it'll be a hard landing for all the boys back on Queens Boulevard.

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