It’s hard to believe Warren Beatty has been one of Hollywood’s fixtures for nearly six decades since he first appeared opposite Natalie Wood in Splendour in the Grass (1961).

Just six years later, as producer and star of Bonnie and Clyde, he cemented his reputation as a leader of a new wave that emerged in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

While his star status was guaranteed, Beatty preferred his own vehicles, notably Reds (1981), about American journalist John Reed, who observed the Russian Revolution at first hand (Ten Days That Shook the World).

Beatty continued his political fixation with Bulworth (1998), a satire that failed to attract a large audience.

His last major role, in Town and Country (2001), also flopped and he hasn’t been seen again until his 80th year.

Of course, he did a star turn at this year’s Oscars when he and co-presenter Faye Dunaway were handed the wrong envelope and ending up announcing the wrong winner of the best picture award.

Meanwhile, Beatty had been nurturing a comeback project about the legendary billionaire Howard Hughes, whose life has been the subject of two earlier films: Jason Robards in Jonathan Demme’s comedy Melvin and Howard (1980); and Martin Scorsese’s The Aviator (2004), with Leonardo DiCaprio.

Rules Don’t Apply (20th Century Fox) takes a different tack by starting at a time, in 1958, when Hughes was mainly running an airline, TWA, and a film studio, RKO.

Although he did this through various front men, and usually worked only at night, he was not yet the recluse famed for his phobias.

Beatty warns, in an introductory quote from Hughes, “Never check an interesting fact”, that not everything that follows will be true.

In fact, Hughes was no longer a Hollywood studio boss, having sold RKO in 1955. It ceased production in 1957.

The main story is fictional and doesn’t involve Hughes for some time. Instead, it is about a starlet (Lily Collins), who joins a couple of dozen other young women who also want to be in the movies.

They are given fancy apartments, have a personal driver (they’re not allowed their own cars) and their contracts lay down strict conditions about how they conduct their private lives.

Initially, that is not a problem as Collins is initially accompanied by her strict Baptist mother (Annette Bening). She eventually tires and leaves Hollywood without seeing Hughes or her daughter’s screen test.

Meanwhile, Collins becomes friendly with her driver (Alden Ehrenreich) in defiance of the dating ban. He, however, becomes a confidante of Hughes and arranges a screen test that leads to a personal meeting with Hughes himself.

At this point the plot takes off, as Hughes appears to be infatuated while also being advised to get married to prevent him being removed from the business on mental health grounds.

The melding of a youth romance with Hughes’ eccentric behaviour creates an imbalance that Beatty fails to resolve in the narrative. But this is a splendid period production, which is also populated by heavyweights Alec Baldwin, Candice Bergen, Matthew Broderick and Martin Sheen, even if they have little to do.

Rating: Mature audiences. 127 minutes.

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