Warren Beatty is back in the director's chair for the first time since 1998's "Bulworth." It's also his first time up on the big screen since 2001, when he appeared in the clunker, "Town and Country." What has brought him out of his semi-retirement is "" - a major project devoted to capturing the essence of the enigmatic Howard Hughes, with Beatty playing Hughes. And to cut to the chase, I believe it's a contender to be the worst major film of 2016.
Even though it's about Howard Hughes, for some reason, it's primarily concerned about two much smaller people within the orbit of planet Hughes. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this approach. You can tell a lot about a person by seeing the effect he has on others. But here, it just doesn't work.
"Rules Don't Apply" opens in 1964, explaining that a new biography on Hughes has just been released and that the author claims to have been in touch with Hughes on a regular basis. A major news conference is underway with all forms of the media in attendance. All are waiting for Hughes to call into the meeting to either lend credence to the book or to deny it's veracity.
Enter Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), in an Acapulco hotel. Forbes is an employee and fairly close associate of Hughes. We see him go into Hughes' room and begin talking to a curtain surrounding a bed. Presumably Hughes is on the other side of the curtain, but Forbes fails to receive an answer. Then we are flashed back in time and space to Hollywood in the 1950's.
Frank has recently been hired as one of the many drivers under the employ of Mr. Hughes. All of them chauffeur the numerous beautiful young women who are ostensibly there to audition for screen tests as bit players of the films Hughes is involved in. The innuendos suggest that these young ladies are really there for decidedly more carnal purposes: to service the eccentric millionaire in the bedroom.
Frank's first assignment is to serve as the personal driver of Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), a small-town beauty queen, and her very proper Baptist mother, Lucy (Annette Bening.). The two women are being housed in a beautiful little place. Meanwhile, Frank is engaged to his high school sweetheart back home in Fresno.
Levar Mathis (Matthew Broderick) is a veteran chauffeur working for Mr. Hughes. As soon as he meets Frank, he warns him that all of the contract actresses Hughes has brought in are strictly off-limits. If you are even perceived to be interested in one of the young ladies, you will be terminated on the spot. Despite this warning, we can tell that something might be brewing between Frank and Lucy, despite their seemingly good characters and the clear rules that are set in stone. With the Hughes story line and the possible romantic story line in place, the rest of "Rules Don't Apply" is a back and forth between these plots, with an overlap between them, of course.
Unfortunately, neither story works particularly well. The Hughes portion is overwhelmed by Beatty doing an impression of Hughes that attempts to get us inside his head, but it reveals only that he is a demented loon with flashes of sanity. That may be an accurate portrayal, but it never stops feeling like just that: a portrayal. The romantic story line is even less appealing. It's full of awkwardness and also feels forced and unrealistic. There's just no chemistry here. The result left me frustrated and bored. Aside from looking good, "Rules Don't Apply" offers little of value. Nothing about this rules.