Bill Whalen

Movie sequels in today’s California

“Entourage,” an HBO series, is now a feature film.
“Entourage,” an HBO series, is now a feature film. Warner Bros.

If you can’t judge a book by its cover, what can we assume about California based on what’s playing at the local cinema?

Premiering this week is “Entourage,” a movie version of the HBO series about a close-knit group of man-children leading lives of fame, riches and Hollywood misogynistic excess (enabled by an endless series of celebrity cameos).

Movies such as “Entourage” peddle an outdated version of California. As The New York Times said, the film “is bound to evoke an era when DVD sales were a cash cow, YouTube was for amateurs and the movie business was a more dominant cultural force. Television, social media and sports have stolen much of the industry’s glitter.”

In other words, “Entourage” is your ticket to the advanced study of a California devoid of Google and iPhones and governed by a movie star.

One thing we know about Hollywood: If a profit seems likely, it won’t pass on a remake of a formula that works. Witness that Arnold Schwarzenegger will be appearing in his fourth “Terminator” film this summer. So here are a few suggestions for updating California-based stories:

▪ “Grand Canyon.” In the 1991 original, a random series of events prompts a group of Angelenos to find the meaning of life via a quest that leads them to the natural wonder in Arizona. In the sequel, the locale moves north to a coastal retreat and a bunch of tech executives, à la the smiling Don Draper in the final scene of “Mad Men,” searching for the meaning of the next big app.

▪ “The Grapes of Wrath.” In the 1940s original, the Joads travel from Oklahoma to Bakersfield’s Weedpatch Camp and learn hard lessons about farming and organized labor. The sequel (“Las Uvas de Ira”): Migrant farmworkers come north in search of work in an industry which, despite a record drought, just reported its highest number of workers in a quarter of a century.

▪ “Heat.” The 1995 version took viewers through the crime world of Los Angeles, including a heavily armed shootout in downtown L.A. that eerily resembled a real-life North Hollywood bank robbery 14 months after the movie’s release. In the sequel, 1990s theft and gunfire gives way to point-and-click cybercrime, with the bad guys pursued up and down the Information Highway, not the 110.

▪ “Boogie Nights.” The 1997 original is a sad/comical/nostalgic look at the San Fernando Valley adult-film industry of the late 1970s and early 1980s. The sequel: Porn legend Dirk Diggler embraces family values, joins the California Republican Party and wins a seat in the state Assembly only to discover that politics at the state Capitol is just a different way to make an X-rated living.

▪ “The Candidate.” In the 1972 original, Democrat Bill McKay (played by Robert Redford) goes from long shot U.S. Senate hopeful to improbable winner. The sequel: What could be more improbable than a Republican pulling off the upset?

And we get an answer to Redford’s question, “What do we do now?” The answer is begging for dollars, given that California is America’s political ATM and a typical U.S. senator spends two-thirds of the last two years of a term fundraising.

But who’d believe a story about money controlling politics?

Bill Whalen is a Hoover Institution research fellow and former speechwriter for Gov. Pete Wilson. Whalen can be reached at