Martin Scorsese continues to suffer from a form of elephantiasis, compounded by a touch of Oscaritis: a pushing-three-hours epic on the tumultuous career of Howard Hughes (the eternally boyish Leonardo DiCaprio, deficient in gravitas even with the added mustache midway through) in the parallel worlds of filmmaking and aeronautics circa 1927-47. It offers little insight into the man (the best you can say of the childhood prologue, in which his mother terrorizes him with the threat of cholera and typhus, is that it's brief), yet it offers plenty of random, rambling, gossipy entertainment: the behind-the-scenes follies of the then most expensive film ever produced, Hell's Angels; an exciting test flight in 1935, breaking the existing speed record, and a spectacular crash in 1946 in the heart of Beverly Hills, breaking numerous bones; two face-offs, or face-downs, of inquisitorial panels, first the Hollywood censors up in arms over Jane Russell's décolletage in The Outlaw, and then a U.S. Senate committee ostensibly piqued over his misuse of government funds during the war; and a whole host of illustrations of his personal eccentricities (to pick a mild word): the handshake phobia, the stuck-phonograph-needle speech tic (suppressible only by a hand over his mouth), the lengthy sequestration in a studio screening room, with the resultant lengthy hair and fingernails, and the daily recycling of the delivered milk bottles as urinals. One way or another, the caricatures of Hollywood luminaries (principally Cate Blanchett's recognizable Kate Hepburn, if only verbally, and Kate Beckinsale's unrecognizable Ava Gardner) add to our entertainment as well -- if, again, not to our insight. And, although useless as a narrative device or even a period-evocation device, Scorsese's pedantic reproduction of the primitive two-color process (reds and blues only, yielding blue peas, blue foliage, etc.), evolving into a fuller spectrum with the passage of time, might tickle aficionados. Surely Scorsese, however, was fishing for a stronger compliment than words to the effect that his movie is good for a few laughs. John C. Reilly, Alec Baldwin, Alan Alda. (2004) — Duncan Shepherd
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