‘Rules Don’t Apply’
Director: Warren Beatty
Stars: Warren Beatty, Alden Ehrenreich
4 (out of 5) Globes
Warren Beatty’s Howard Hughes movie may have been a passion project, talked up for decades, but the end result plays like a deranged fever dream. It gives off the air of being haphazardly made on the fly, not meticulously stewed-upon for ages. But don’t confuse chaos for confusion. It may look like a mess but it’s ever so tightly controlled. Beatty, an infrequent but forward-thinking filmmaker with only five films to his name, seems to have been trying to make a film about collective insanity that felt itself insane. It offers untold grist for Golden Age Hollywood fanatics, but it might work better as a madcap, breakneck office comedy, one where the boss just happens to be Howard Goddamned Hughes.
Of course, movies about Hollywood don’t come any more loaded than “Rules Don’t Apply.” Here’s Warren Beatty, aging stud, AWOL from screens since 2001’s “Town & Country,” making a movie about and starring as one of the 20th century’s most iconic recluses. Beatty delays his entrance 25 whole minutes, and enters with his wrinkly faced covered in shadows. Before then his frenzied employees talk about him like he was Harry Lime, only a Harry Lime whose whereabouts where always known. The story starts in the 1950s, with Hughes already well-established as an eccentric billionaire with enough money to command any fool thing he wants — be it rows of bottled water from Maine, stacked atop a television set, or a truckload of banana nut ice cream shipped to the desert, because he’s recently decided that’s his flavor. His employees are beyond frazzled, but they know the drill. They even like it, or at least are so committed to this particular strain of working they don’t think they can do anything else.
We get two audience surrogates into this mad, mad, mad, mad world. First, there’s Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), a fresh-faced nice kid who can’t believe he’s working as a driver for one of the planet’s most famous men. He’s tasked with driving not Hughes but Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), the latest member of what amounts to Hughes’ sexless harem of young beauties. With Marla they now number 26, all of them given their own Hollywood Hills homes, sitting around waiting for … who knows what? There’s talk of screen tests for some mystery Hughes movie. But he’s in no apparent rush to make it. When Marla is suddenly fetched to meet Hughes, she finds herself in a darkened hotel room, sitting several feet from him, the two eating meals wrapped in aluminum foil on TV tray tables, not really talking about anything. Before anything’s been made clear, he leaves the room.