For his first directorial effort since 1998’s “Bulworth,” Warren Beatty has chosen to tell the tale of the mental deterioration of Howard Hughes. But in “Rules Don’t Apply,” he does so by viewing the man’s disintegration through the prism of two inconsequential fictional characters.
Meet Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). She’s a small-town beauty queen lured to Hollywood by the promise of a screen test in a movie Hughes might produce. Frank is the fellow hired by Hughes to drive her to various test-related functions: wardrobe fittings, dinners, meetings (though not with Hughes), etc.
They’re young. They’re good-looking. They’re ambitious. They’re devoutly religious. They’re innocents (she more than he; she’s a virgin, he’s not).
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Moths to the flame. Welcome to the great Gomorrah of Hollywood, kids. Kiss your innocence goodbye.
An old story, indifferently told here.
Beatty, of course, has reserved the role of Hughes for himself, and he seems to be having quite the ball playing the secretive, paranoid, bullying and intensely eccentric mogul (a modern Midas who dines on old-time TV dinners in aluminum trays placed on old-time tray tables).
He’s a mogul who is losing his marbles — and knows it. Beatty’s Hughes spends a lot of time on the phone to aides worrying, with good reason, that powerful interests — bankers and the like — want to prove he’s mentally unfit to run his businesses and by doing so wrest those businesses away from him. He feels himself slipping, and he’s increasingly distraught as he’s losing his grip.
He’s like the Great Oz, concealed behind a curtain as the picture opens, and then later in a flashback that takes up most of the running time, hidden in deep shadows in a variety of hotel rooms.
Meanwhile, Frank and Marla, share their dreams and hopes with each other and fall inevitably in love. As their lives intersect with Hughes and they get more deeply involved in his life, they’re starry-eyed, then later quizzical and ultimately dismayed by his erratic and cruel behavior. But they’re such uninteresting people it’s hard to feel invested in their situation.
Beatty directed and wrote the script, but from a man who made the weighty epic “Reds” and the corrosively funny “Bulworth,” “Rules Don’t Apply” feels curiously weightless and as forgettable as its title.
Rules Don’t Apply
☆☆ 1/2 out of 5
Cast: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick.
Director: Warren Beatty.
Running time: 2:06.
Rated: PG-13, for sexual material including brief strong language, thematic elements and drug references.