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This post was originally published on News Cult in November 2016.

Starring: Warren Beatty, Lily Collins, Alden Ehrenreich, Matthew Broderick, Annette Bening

Director: Warren Beatty

Running Time: 126 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for a Few Snafus Involving Alcohol and Bodily Fluids

Release Date: November 23, 2016

Rules Don’t Apply has four credited editors and 16 credited producers, and the entire of all of their handiwork can be felt onscreen. Warren Beatty’s passion project about the ’50s Hollywood goings-on in billionaire producer/aviator Howard Hughes’ empire has about as many approaches as it does characters, and it has A LOT of characters. The two main ones are virginal aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) and her driver, aspiring businessman Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). The pair’s flirtatiousness is doomed by Hughes’ rule prohibiting romance between any of his employees and also by the film losing track of their story. Joining them is a who’s who of the friends that Beatty has made over the years, most of them flitting in and out for a hot second.

While the wild shifts in pacing and tone prevent Rules Don’t Apply from amounting to much, there are plenty of details scattered around that are worth some pleasures (and if corralled more efficiently, could have made for a much more accomplished end product). Much of this is to do with some oft-repeated, almost mantra-like bits of dialogue. After Howard tells Marla where their H2O is from, she wonders aloud, sounding as if she is learning for the first time either the entire concept of liquids or how to speak English, “Hmm. Water. From Maine.” Also contributing to the lack of experience of living as a human is Howard’s bizarre insistence on a very particular ice cream flavor. Perhaps that same whimsy explains all the alliteration in the character names.

Hidden beneath this weird mess of nominal satire is a fascinating performance from Beatty. “Hidden” is the optimum word here, both because this film is hard to make sense of and because Beatty often shoots himself in the shadows, with Howard an enigmatic presence taking care of most of his business behind closed doors and via middlemen. But his inscrutable ways are commanding. The chaos surrounding him serves this svengali’s arc well. It is almost as if Beatty figured out exactly the movie he wanted to make but forgot to tell everyone else. To be fair, that is understandable when you have four editors and 16 producers.

Rules Don’t Apply is Recommended If You Like: Being Confused

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Bowls of Banana Nut Ice Cream

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