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'Rules Don't Apply' a bland bore from Beatty

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Hollywood legend's passion project surprisingly forgettable

Warren Beatty is Hollywood royalty, one of those actors whose work spans multiple generations. He had his first major role in 1961 ' 55 years ago. He's an iconic figure in the world of cinema, famous for on-screen work and off-screen behavior alike.

He's also been essentially retired for the last 15 years. His last film role was in 2001's 'Town & Country;? aside from a weird 2010 TV special where he played Dick Tracy being interviewed by Leonard Maltin, he's done nothing since then.

But Beatty's back.

'Rules Don't Apply? is apparently a film that Beatty has been trying to get done for decades. And it definitely checks all the passion project boxes for him ' he produces, writes, directs and stars in the film.

It's the story of two young people ' an actress and a driver ' working in Hollywood in the mid-1960s. Their orbits intersect thanks to their respective proximities to the eccentric billionaire Howard Hughes; they quickly find themselves drawn to one another despite their best judgment, but those choices could potentially come back to haunt them.

Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich, 'Hail, Caesar!?) has just arrived in Hollywood and taken a job working for Howard Hughes (Beatty). Frank's a driver, one of the legion that Hughes keeps on hand to transport the numerous young actresses that he has contracted and put up all over town.

One of his first assignments comes when young Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins, 'Love, Rosie?) and her mother Lucy (Annette Bening, '20th Century Women?) arrive in town. Marla is the latest addition to the Hughes stable of actresses, but she's much more of a pious, small-town girl than most of her peers.

Frank and Marla are immediately drawn to one another, but as Frank's jaded co-worker Levar (Matthew Broderick, 'The American Side?) repeatedly points out ' getting involved with one of the actresses means immediate termination.

Initially, neither Frank nor Marla has any interaction with Hughes, but before long, both are drawn in by the man. Despite an increasing oddness to his behavior ' including a need to not be seen by almost anybody ' Frank and Marla are among the few who gain a modicum of closeness to the tycoon.

But as the Hughes empire threatens to collapse around him, Frank and Marla are left to confront the unfortunate nature of their relationship. They must decide what's most important to them ' their connection to one another or their respective ties to the great man himself.

Passion projects are a tricky business. When a person ' no matter how talented ' becomes consumed by an outside-the-box idea, their obsession can lead down a wide variety of paths. Some of these projects turn into career-defining highlights, while others fall sadly flat. But for the most part, the one thing that they all have in common is, well?passion. Good or not-so-good, the audience tends to feel the filmmaker's enthusiasm for the project.

But apparently that rule doesn't apply to 'Rules Don't Apply.?

Considering the lengthy journey that Warren Beatty took to make this movie, it's surprisingly devoid of anything that resembles that impassioned connection. It's not a bad film. It's perfectly serviceable; an inoffensive and slight romantic comedy. As a minor studio release, it's fine. As the culmination of a years-long struggle by a Hollywood icon, it's a confusing disappointment.

I get the fascination with Howard Hughes ' he's a fascinating guy ' but the surprise is that Beatty never really delves too deeply into the aspects of Hughes that made him so interesting. It's mostly surface-level stuff; glimpses of the TWA lawsuits and his globe-trotting lunacy. Essentially, Beatty has turned one of mid-century America's most titanic characters and turned him into a plot device, a standard-issue rom-com obstacle.

It doesn't make any sense.

It doesn't help that Beatty spends most of his scenes in deep shadow, the poor lighting a fairly blatant attempt to keep audiences from realizing that Beatty ' at nearly 80 years old ' is rather too long in the tooth to be playing a man supposedly in his late 50s. The performance itself is all tics and tricks, without any real oomph. It's not bad, but again ' in this kind of project, you expect something more.

Beatty's energy was clearly infectious, because the hugely talented supporting cast also falls flat. Ehrenreich and Collins are just OK; the lack of urgency in their relationship infects their entire respective performances. It's nice to see Broderick and Bening and the great collection of additional talent ' folks like Ed Harris and Alec Baldwin and Oliver Platt and old-schoolers like Martin Sheen and Candice Bergen ' but with the arguable exception of Broderick, they don't really get much to do.

Beatty's script is bland and lightweight; it's basically a generic romantic comedy that has shoehorned Howard Hughes into the story. The stakes feel manufactured if you feel them at all and the narrative has a thin, paint-by-numbers quality. Combine that with direction where the primary conscious choice appears to be the aforementioned nigh-constant shadows surrounding Beatty and the result is a movie that is completely and utterly forgettable.

It's nice that Warren Beatty was able to bring his passion project to the big screen. I only wish that it had been something better ' or at least more interesting - than 'Rules Don't Apply.?

[1.5 out of 5]

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