An aspiring young actress (Lily Collins) and her ambitious young driver (Alden Ehrenreich) struggle hopefully with the absurd eccentricities of the wildly unpredictable billionaire (Warren Beatty), who they work for.
It's Hollywood, 1958. Small town beauty queen and devout Baptist virgin Marla Mabrey (Collins), under contract to the infamous Howard Hughes (Beatty), arrives in Los Angeles. At the airport, she meets her driver Frank Forbes (Ehrenreich), who is engaged to be married to his 7th grade sweetheart and is a deeply religious Methodist. Their instant attraction not only puts their religious convictions to the test, but also defies Hughes' #1 rule: no employee is allowed to have any relationship whatsoever with a contract actress. Hughes' behavior intersects with Marla and Frank in very separate and unexpected ways, and as they are drawn deeper into his bizarre world, their values are challenged and their lives are changed.
After a 15-year absence from the big screen, and an even longer one as a director, Warren Beatty finally returns in 'Rules Don't Apply', a movie that he co-wrote, directs, and stars in. After all this time (the film has been in development since at least 2011, although rumors are that Beatty has been looking to make a movie about Howard Hughes since the 1970s), one would hope that Beatty would bring something spectacular to the screen. Sadly, the movie – while visually impressive and loaded with talent – doesn't have a whole lot to say about Hughes or the fictional characters the movie puts in the eccentric billionaire's orbit.
The movie opens with news reporters gathering awaiting to hear from Hughes (played by Beatty) via telephone, who is supposed to debunk a new biography that has been written about him. The film then jumps back in time approximately five years and introduces viewers to his chauffeur, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich), whose primary job is to drive around young starlets Hughes has under contract – although he never puts them in any movies. Hughes' latest gal is Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins), who immediately catches Frank's eye, and the feeling seems mutual.
Both Frank and Marla, however, come from devoutly religious backgrounds. Frank is engaged to a gal back home, while Marla sees his engagement as essentially Frank already being married. To add to the sexual tension, Hughes has a rule that none of his employees are to have any sort of relationship with any of his talent under contract. Things become even more complicated when a one-night stand between Marla and Hughes results in an unexpected dilemma.
Interestingly, the main story's romantic elements aren't nearly as interesting as a subplot concerning Hughes's financial troubles with TWA and his dealings with men trying to help him save the fledgling airline. Perhaps those bits of the movie are more fascinating since they're based on fact, while the romantic entanglements of the story are purely fictional (aside from the fact that Hughes was indeed a well-known ladies' man). Some other moments in the film – such as Hughes breaking down and crying during a phone call – are apparently based on facts Beatty learned about Hughes while doing research for the movie.
The biggest problem with 'Rules Don't Apply' is the fact that we've seen much of this all before in Martin Scorsese's excellent biopic on Hughes, The Aviator, which is pretty much the definitive movie on Hughes (and may explain why it took so long for Beatty to get his version up on the screen). That film introduced many of us to the problems of Hughes's life and his health, so nothing we see here about him is much of a surprise.
Despite not having enough of an engaging story to recommend, Beatty's solid direction and the fact that he's gathered a nice collection of notable character actors to appear in his movie (most, I'm guessing, onboard just to work with the acclaimed star) still make 'Rules Don't Apply' worth at least a rental. But don't go out and buy this one without at least seeing it once first...chances are a single flight is all you'll desire with this on-screen version of Howard Hughes.
The Blu-Ray: Vital Disc Stats
'Rules Don't Apply' lands on home video in this DVD/Blu-ray/Digital HD combo pack. The dual-layer DVD and 50GB Blu-ray are housed inside an eco-friendly Elite keepcase, along with an insert containing a code for a digital copy of the movie. A slipcover with artwork matching that of the keepcase's slick slides overtop. Both the DVD and the Blu-ray are front-loaded with an ad for digital movies from 20th Century Fox, along with trailers for Hidden Figures and 'Papa Hemingway in Cuba' (a trailer for Season 2 of Fargo is also part of the 'Sneak Peak' section of the Extras). The main menu consists of a montage of footage from the movie and menu selections horizontally across the bottom of the screen.
The Blu-ray in this release is Region A locked.
'Rules Don't Apply' was shot digitally on the Arri Alexa XT, and marks the first (and quite possibly the last, as who knows if he'll ever direct again) movie Warren Beatty has helmed on the digital format. The creators of the movie have done an impressive job with the set design of 'Rules Don't Apply', which is nicely shown off in this solid, if unspectacular, transfer. The movie is presented in the 1.85:1 aspect ratio, which reflects how it appeared in theaters.
Because Hughes was such a recluse in his later days, Beatty shoots well over half of his sequences in rooms that range between dimly lit to downright dark. While black levels are good enough here not to cause major issues with noise creeping in, they're not inky enough to prevent these sequences from appearing a little flat in the process, which is a shame. On the other hand, the rest of the movie looks great – colorful, sharp, and detailed – with the only caveat being the obvious archival shots of Los Angeles and other locations that Beatty has inserted in his movie, including for the rear projection of car-driving sequences.
While the overall color palette here is a little warmer than I would prefer, this is still a nice transfer without too many major complaints. I did see a few instances of slight aliasing/stabilization shimmering in the presentation, but this is a mostly error-free rendering.
The featured track here is an English 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio one, and while there's nothing particularly stand-out about the sound here, it serves its purpose. Dialogue is primarily front and center throughout, but clearly rendered. The surrounds are primarily used for a number of ambient noises and to enhance the classic Hollywood soundtrack that is peppered throughout the movie, as well as composer Andrew M. Chukerman's original score. Viewers/listeners do get a little "oomph" to the track when planes are featured in the movie (particularly during a sequence late in the film where Hughes is piloting one), but other than that this is a competently done track, if otherwise unremarkable.
In addition to the lossless 5.1 track, an English 5.1 Audio Description Service is available, as are tracks in Spanish 5.1 Dolby Digital and French 5.1 DTS. Subtitles are also an option in English SDH, Spanish, and French.
It's a shame that, after such a long absence from the screen, Warren Beatty's 'Rules Don't Apply' doesn't have more to offer. The movie is well staged and acted, but doesn't have much to say in the story department. The result is a film with some good sequences sprinkled throughout but also one that, as a whole, really isn't worth it. If you're curious about this one, you'll want to rent it first.