Catholic News Service Movie Reviews

11/30/2016

Rules Don’t Apply
By John Mulderig

NEW YORK (CNS) — Warren Beatty wrote, directed and stars in “Rules Don’t Apply” (Fox), a loosely fact-based tale set within the secretive world of eccentric industrialist Howard Hughes (1905-1976).

Part romantic comedy, part biopic, the film suffers from an unstable tone. Additionally, Beatty’s script adopts a mostly negative attitude toward the influence of Christian faith in the personal lives of his two principal characters.

Small-town beauty queen and aspiring actress Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins) finds herself a cultural fish out of water when she becomes one of the many fetching would-be stars summoned to 1950s Hollywood by Hughes (Beatty), whose holdings then included RKO Pictures. Like her peers, she’s housed in style and assigned a chauffeur, Frank Forbes (Alden Ehrenreich). Part of Frank’s job is to report any misbehaviour with men he might observe.

Despite strict rules against fraternizing, the two young people fall for each other. But the looming, though often invisible, presence of their increasingly unhinged employer complicates matters in unexpected ways, threatening to thwart their happiness.

Religion plays a prominent part in the film. As we learn early on, both Marla and Frank have been hired by Hughes in part because they are devout mainline Protestants. He’s a Methodist, and she belongs to the Baptist Church in which Beatty himself was raised. Beatty’s slightly sneering script portrays the duo’s faith-based sexual mores as naive and repressive and their eventual loss of innocence as at least partially liberating.

There’s a good deal of moral confusion along their path to supposed sophistication: a hidden love affair, an unexpected pregnancy, an engagement that’s called off almost as soon as it’s made — but not before it’s used as a green light for sex. Along with the movie’s anti-religious undercurrent, all these plot twists call for careful assessment by mature viewers.

And then there’s the artistic imbalance. Frank and Marla’s love story sits uncomfortably beside the awkwardly humorous spectacle of a brilliant billionaire slowly going bonkers. Nor is Hughes’ mental decline always played for laughs. His obsession with his dead father involves a painful sense of loss and disappointment while the fact that no one is willing to defy him, even for his own good, feels tragic.

The film contains an ambivalent depiction of Christian faith, semi-graphic scenes of premarital sex, some distasteful visual humour, mature themes, including abortion, several profanities, at least one use each of rough and crude language and a few crass terms. The Catholic News Service classification is L — limited adult audience, films whose problematic content many adults would find troubling. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is PG-13 — parents strongly cautioned. Some material may be inappropriate for children under 13.
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Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.
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Bad Santa
By Kurt Jensen

NEW YORK (CNS) — As soul-deadening as its squalid urban setting, “Bad Santa 2” (Broad Green) attempts to mine laughs out of human degradation.

As he did in the 2003 original, Billy Bob Thornton’s alcoholic safe-cracker Willie somehow manages to desecrate more Christmastime traditions than might seem possible.

He’s again on the loose with his partner, Marcus (Tony Cox), and hopelessly naive hanger-on Thurman (Brett Kelly), the only person who actually loves and trusts him. This time out, Willie is also joined by his con-artist mother, Sunny (Kathy Bates).

The plot involves a plan to rob a corrupt Chicago charity that ostensibly helps the needy. The fact that this concern somehow hires ex-convicts as sidewalk Santas gives Willie, Marcus and Sunny the means to don holiday costumes and execute the heist.

When he’s not too busy planning this rancid caper, Willie, who has just enough self-awareness to realize his misery, lashes out continuously at his companions.

All women in this scenario are cynical, nearly brainless and alternate between having sex and loudly discussing it. Joyless fornication provides Willie with the only thing approaching a real connection to humanity.

Director Mark Waters and screenwriters Johnny Rosenthal and Shauna Cross go far beyond the tropes of dark comedy to give a sour portrayal of hell on earth. Several hard punches to the face are likely to feel more entertaining.

The film contains some gun violence, strong sexual content, including aberrant acts, full nudity and low-minded banter, and pervasive profane, rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
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Jensen is a guest reviewer for Catholic News Service.

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