The virgin comes to the lip of the Hollywood volcano in little white gloves, as all virgins do. This time her name is Marla Mabrey (Lily Collins): devout Baptist; amateur songwriter; Miss Apple Blossom Queen; and lucky recipient of a showbiz contract from Howard Hughes (producer/writer/director Warren Beatty), who has lured her out to Tinseltown with her mother (Annette Bening) as chaperone. Hughes has provided everything for his new protégé, including a spacious bungalow and 400 dollars a week just for attending singing, dancing, and acting lessons. He's even provided her with a driver named Frank (Alden Ehrenreich) to ferry her around town -- but gently, so as not to strain any of the ligaments in her breasts by going over bumps too quickly.
Frank is forbidden to have a relationship with any of the starlets he chauffeurs, not only by draconian lunatic Hughes, but by the anti-sex screeds offered by several different churches. He and Marla are attracted to each other, of course, even though the most they have in common is that they both want something from Hughes: she a screen test, he a buy-in for a big land deal. They fidget and wait, constantly hoping that this is the day the deteriorating codeine popper will bestow his whimsical billions upon them, and in the meantime they make chaste and not-so-chaste eyes at one another. When Hughes the decrepit mole-man finally emerges from whatever darkened hotel room is his headquarters for the week, eager to gobble down banana-nut ice cream and babble about Al Jolson and wingspans to the two of them, he makes Dean Stockwell's doped-up cameo in Blue Velvet look like Mr. Rogers by comparison.
This movie, prefaced with a ribs-nudging Hughes quote in the opening frames -- "Never check an interesting fact" -- has been a vanity project for Warren Beatty since his "You're So Vain" years. Maybe at some point in his goatish youth he saw himself in fellow bedpost-notch collector Hughes, but now this project is as overripe as a slumpy wheel of Brie -- and just about as stinky. The romance between the utterly uninteresting Frank and Marla is provoked by nothing but genre expectations (Ehrenreich had much more of an actual character to play in his other Hollywood period piece, Hail, Caesar!), and the conceit of a screwball romance whirling around the decline of a demented, syphilitic obsessive-compulsive veers toward the jaw-droppingly tasteless territory of Jerry Lewis' Holocaust comedy The Day the Clown Cried. This isn't The Aviator, that's for sure; it's an infuriating stinkeroo that yanks the audience around the same way Hughes abuses his long-suffering staff. Why don't they just quit? They can, after all, and luckily viewers can also walk out of the theater -- or, better yet, can walk away before this dog even begins.