It’s like “Café Society,” only worse.
“Rules Don’t Apply” marks the cinematic return of Warren Beatty in his first acting role since 2001’s “Town & Country” and directorial effort since 1998’s “Bulworth.” Beatty stars as Howard Hughes and the story follows a contract driver (Alden Ehrenreich) and actress (Lily Collins) who are employed by Hughes but forbidden to date (gee, wonder what’ll happen?). Annette Bening and Matthew Broderick also star as a dozen other actors make cameos.
I was looking forward to this one. I love 1950s Hollywood and am a big fan of Warren Beatty (“Bonnie and Clyde” is so good!!) so to have him return to the movies and be able to see a cinematic legend on the big screen for once with my own eyes excited me. Old-time Los Angeles has been visited a lot this year in film (“Café Society,” “The Nice Guys” and “Hail, Caesar!” being three examples), so in that degree I have been spoiled, but “Rules Don’t Apply” turns out to be payment for me being able to visit my favorite time period, as it is a slow, poorly assembled passion project that had me checking my watch every five minutes.
I guess I’ll start with the good, what little of it there is. The set design is great, as driving down the city streets or up a twisting hill of 1950s Los Angeles is stunning to behold. Much like “Allied,” this can hang its hat on a possible Oscar nomination for production value.
Like I said, it is nice to see Warren Beatty acting again and his Hughes is an at-times charming character. He’s much older than Howard Hughes actually was in 1959 but still manages to convey the crazy mannerisms that society liked to place upon the billionaire. Alden Ehrenreich, the future young Han Solo and show-stealer from “Hail, Caesar!” (so looks like he’s being typecast as 1950s Hollywood heartthrob), is a little charming in his own right, but the forced, by-the-numbers romance he has with Collins is just not believable. It is similar to Jesse Eisenberg and Kristen Stewart in “Café Society” just take away any of the emotional investment, heartbreak or chemistry.
Now to, well, everything else. This whole film doesn’t feel like an actual film as much as an awkward compilation of things Warren Beatty wanted to see his friends do in a movie. Characters show up for one scene and are completely gone by the next, and there are legitimately fifteen second scenes that consist of two just lines of dialogue. This film had four editors, which for those who are unaware is three more than the average film, and I have no idea what some of these scenes were in here for.
Speaking of editing, this is one of the worst paced films I have ever seen, no hyperbole in the slightest. There comes a point where two characters seem to be at a climax and then Hughes does something that appears to be solving his big problem so I thought, “ok it has been a little slow but we’re finally at the end of the film, we can wrap things up and go.” Nope. That wasn’t the climax. That wasn’t even the final act. I was only an hour into a two hour film, and the second half is even slower than the first.
Beatty’s screenplay has some good bits of dialogue in it, but narratively it has no idea what it wants to do or where it wants to go, and we just get awkwardly thrust along, scene after scene, cameo after cameo. Like I said, this doesn’t feel like an actual movie, it feels like a “best of” montage so long as all those “best of” moments were boring and pointless.
Look, this brings me no joy. Mainstream 2016 has been relatively awful (it has no truly great films to date but more than a dozen awful ones) and this is just another disappointment. As someone who appreciates Warren Beatty’s place and contribution to Hollywood history, I hope and pray he appears in at least one more great film, because ending his career on something as poorly assembled and downright boring as “Rules Don’t Apply” would be devastating.
Critics Rating: 3/10