Image courtesy 20th Century Fox

It’s been 15 years since Warren Beatty either stepped behind or in front of a camera, so it’s a great pleasure to see him doing both with his new film Rules Don’t Apply, although the picture itself is not the comeback for which fans were likely hoping.

It’s not a bad film by any means. There are some solid performances, especially Beatty himself as the eccentric Howard Hughes, and a decent enough script, but it’s a fairly lightweight entry into Beatty’s directorial filmography, which includes his terrific Reds, the vastly entertaining Dick Tracy and the hilarious and woefully underrated Bulworth.

His latest is a light and breezy romantic comedy set against the backdrop of the late 1950s and early 1960s Hollywood, where Hughes’s name still carried enough prestige to nab him headlines, but had already become known as a recluse with peculiar habits.

In the film, a young actress named Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) has been invited to become one of the many young actresses bankrolled by Hughes who hope to score a screen test and, thereafter, a career in the pictures. She befriends a young driver named Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) who was hilarious in Hail, Caesar! earlier this year and here does a good job of portraying the straight man to Beatty’s nutty Hughes. Frank is tasked with driving Marla to various appointments. Neither Marla nor Frank have met Hughes during the film’s first third. Most of his other employees haven’t either.

A friendship – and eventually more than that – blossoms between the pair, but hits a snag after both Marla and Frank eventually meet Hughes, who takes a shine to both of them. Further complications ensue, both romantic (a love triangle) and business-related (Hughes refuses to meet a government contract with whom he is supposed to take a multi-million dollar loan in person).

Ehrenreich is a solid leading man and Collins breathes life into Marla, though her character embodies more than a few cliches of the young, innocent starlet in Hollywood (highly religious? anti-drinking? chaste? check, check and check). Beatty is the scene stealer as Hughes, who is so full of manic energy that his character almost feels as if it belongs in a different movie that would center completely on him. Other great actors – Matthew Broderick, Alec Baldwin, Martin Sheen and Annette Bening – show up, but are mostly overshadowed by Beatty.

So, while Rules Don’t Apply has its charms and an admittedly deserved denouement for two of its characters, it’s ultimately a fairly minor movie for a major filmmaker who happens to have not made a movie in many years. But I’m very glad to see Beatty back at work and sincerely hoping this is not a one-off.

Watch the Rules Don’t Apply trailer below: