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Review: Rules Don’t Apply is wildly uneven portrait of Howard Hughes

PUBLISHED: 09:15 21 April 2017 | UPDATED: 09:15 21 April 2017

Lily Cole as Marla Mabrey and Alden Ehrenreich as chauffeur Frank Forbes in Warren Beatty's Rule's Don't Apply. Picture: 20th Century Fox

Lily Cole as Marla Mabrey and Alden Ehrenreich as chauffeur Frank Forbes in Warren Beatty's Rule's Don't Apply. Picture: 20th Century Fox

Archant

Warren Beatty’s film about the billionaire philanthropist and recluse is awkwardly positioned within a faltering romantic comedy that is as faulty as that Oscar night mix-up.

Rules Don’t Apply (12A)

**

This was due to be released in January but after it became clear it wouldn’t be nominated for any awards and nobody was interested in seeing Warren Beatty playing reclusive billionnaire Howard Hughes, it began a gradual slide down the release schedule.

The chief problem is almost nobody under 40 knows who Beatty is, and few over 40 seem to care anymore. Then by cruel irony Rules Don’t Apply had been scheduled to come out here the Friday after the Oscars, when absolutely everybody knew who Warren Beatty was after the Best Film announcement mix-up.

How appropriate then that his latest film is a portrait of a man who seemed to be at the heart of American life only to realise that it had passed him by.

Beatty has been cogitating on a Hughes film since the early 1970s and the parallels are obvious: they were both incredibly smart womanisers who dabbled in different fields; master manipulators who kept the world at arm’s length and ended up frittering away the gifts and advantages they were born with.

The mystery is not why he would make a film about Howard Hughes, but why he would make this one – a highly fictionalised version covering the late 1950s period when he started to withdraw from public life, seen through the eyes of a driver (Alden Ehrenreich) and Baptist beauty queen turned young starlet Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins).

Beatty is notoriously impossible to pin down and though his film toys with various notions; romantic comedy, farce, elegiac drama, tragedy, it never finds one to its liking.

The choppy editing suggests this was once much longer, but can’t disguise its aimlessness.

What strikes you is how little money Beatty seems to have been had to spend. While Martin Scorsese blew a fortune on his Hughes film The Aviator, this takes place in unprepossessing interiors, and exteriors that look like they’ve been shot in front of period postcards.

For a film about a billionaire, it looks shabby.

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