Re­mem­ber when he used to be rel­e­vant? Stylish? Funny? So... what hap­pened?


Rules Don’t Ap­ply (see re­view, this page) is War­ren Beatty’s first film as a writer/di­rec­tor since 1998’s Bul­worth, and only the se­cond fea­ture in which he’s ap­peared in that time. (He starred with his pal Garry Shan­dling in the dis­pos­able 2001 com­edy Town & Coun­try.) In that time, it seems the man who helped de­fine the New Amer­i­can Cinema in Bon­nie And Clyde, McCabe & Mrs. Miller, The Par­al­lax View and Sham­poo – and won an Os­car for di­rect­ing the epic Reds – has lost some­thing. A few things, ac­tu­ally.

1. Po­lit­i­cal rel­e­vance

The fa­mously po­lit­i­cally en­gaged Beatty was cagey about the Amer­i­can elec­tion at a post-screen­ing Q&A last month, laugh­ing off at­tempts to get him to com­ment on the creep­ing men­ace of Don­ald Trump.

Which is weird, be­cause he used to be more than will­ing to speak his mind: the bravura race-re­la­tions satire Bul­worth, which he di­rected, pro­duced and co-wrote, is eas­ily his most cul­tur­ally rel­e­vant work. But even when he’s just act­ing or pro­duc­ing, Beatty’s films have a ten­dency to en­gage with the cli­mate.

The Par­al­lax View is os­ten­si­bly about a Kennedy-as­sas­si­na­tion-style con­spir­acy, but it throbs with Nixon­era para­noia; the en­tire plot of Ishtar is built on the Rea­gan-era CIA’s very real med­dling in the Mid­dle East. Even Bugsy was a cau­tion­ary tale about run­away cap­i­tal­ism.

Rules Don’t Ap­ply is about Howard Hughes want­ing a harem. It’s like he’s let that mus­cle at­ro­phy, and it’s re­ally dis­ap­point­ing.

2. Style

Heaven Can Wait, Reds, Dick Tracy and Bul­worth are all very dif­fer­ent movies, but they’re inar­guably cin­e­matic, filled with strik­ing vis­ual im­ages, vivid per­for­mances, lively nar­ra­tives (well, ex­cept for Reds, which com­pen­sates for its slug­gish pace with a grandeur bor­rowed from Doc­tor Zhivago) and dar­ing mu­si­cal scores.

Rules Don’t Ap­ply has none of these things. Caleb Deschanel, the revered cine­matog­ra­pher of The Black Stal­lion and The Right Stuff, is re­duced to lit­tle more than two-shots and clunky dig­i­tal cityscapes.

3. Self-aware­ness

In in­ter­views, Beatty’s been telling peo­ple Rules Don’t Ap­ply is a satire about Amer­ica’s de­struc­tive, pu­ri­tan­i­cal at­ti­tude to­ward sex­u­al­ity. Maybe that was true when he started writ­ing it.

But the movie he wound up with feels more like a van­ity project about a leg­endary Hol­ly­wood power player who’s lost touch with the world he used to rule and can’t un­der­stand why peo­ple aren’t pay­ing at­ten­tion to him. The way Hughes takes over the nar­ra­tive in the pic­ture’s se­cond half speaks to Beatty’s own re­fusal to let the younger char­ac­ters drive the story.

4. Com­edy

Beatty’s had a rough ride with com­edy over the decades – for ev­ery charmer like Heaven Can Wait there’s a dud like The For­tune – but he’s a hoot in Ishtar, and Bul­worth man­ages to pull the sort of shock­ing laughs Sacha Baron Co­hen can only hit once out of ev­ery three at-bats.

Rules Don’t Ap­ply sets it­self up as a frothy comic con­fec­tion, at least in its first move­ment, be­fore milk­ing awk­ward laughs from pre­ma­ture ejac­u­la­tion and a quickly dropped run­ning gag about Howard Hughes’s ob­ses­sion with large bo­soms.

5. Van­ity

Beatty used to be a lot more strate­gic about his screen per­sona. He used his looks and poise to mask a so­ciopath in Bon­nie And Clyde and a hair-trig­ger thug in Bugsy, and played against his lady-killer rep­u­ta­tion in Ishtar.

The smartest thing he ever did as a film­maker was send up his own mid­dle-aged square­ness to bril­liant satir­i­cal ef­fect in Bul­worth. But his de­ci­sion to play Hughes in Rules Don’t Ap­ply is bizarrely tin-eared, draw­ing un­com­fort­able par­al­lels be­tween him­self and the in­fa­mous avi­a­tor.

You can’t watch Beatty play the iso­lated, in­dulged mega­lo­ma­niac with­out think­ing about how deeply in­side his own bub­ble Beatty had to be to make this movie.

War­ren Beatty (right), here with Alden Ehren­re­ich, shows he’s out of touch in Rules Don’t Ap­ply.


Bonne And Clyde


Heaven Can Wait

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