This is what they call a turn up for the books: Warren Beatty is returning to make an untitled comedy for Paramount after a decade-long absence from our screens. The timing seems a little odd. His wife since 1992, Annette Bening, has never had a healthier career, and he was subject to a lavish AFI retrospective three years ago that seemed as if the filmmaking community was finally putting the old dinosaur out to pasture. But Deadline announces that Beatty is to “come home” to the studio that he won numerous Academy Awards for with a "quintessential Beatty, elegantly written and wonderfully entertaining” script penned by the actor that is to go into production later in the year. Oh, Warren, what’s that Carly Simon song called again?
His comeback, of course, has been touted for years – he famously was approached by Quentin Tarantino to play the eponymous role in both of the “Kill Bill” films – but this is the first time something concrete has been announced. Previously the loose talk surrounding a proposed “Dick Tracy” sequel, but even Beatty himself recently indicated that he was still writing it and there was no set timetable in place. After a decade spent in the wilderness, though, a return is perhaps understandable. No one wants dreck like “Town and Country” to go down as their final film.
There are a lot of prevailing myths about the seventy-four year old actor. The logic goes that, according Peter Biskind’s rock star profiling, he bent the Hollywood system to his will with a wink, a nudge and an obsessively domineering attitude. After his sizzling debut in Elia Kazan’s “Splendor in the Grass,” he seduced the industry by becoming one of the first actor-producers on “Bonnie & Clyde,” harassed Robert Altman non-stop on his revisionist western “McCabe and Mrs Miller,” convinced the most Communist-phobic country in the world to make a multi-million dollar film about a dead socialist buried in the Kremlin Wall (“Reds”) and then screened the damn thing in the White House for Reagan. He managed to achieve all of this, apparently, whilst courting the libidinous lothario persona he perfected with “Shampoo,” all the while with an array of hot babes on his arm (Julie Christie, Diane Keaton and Madonna the most notable) that indulged his every whim. A lot of this is total hagiography, of course, as sour episodes like his attempts to out-maneuver Pauline Kael on “Love and Money” and bonafide disasters like “Ishtar” bear out, but Beatty has an impressive legacy on which to trade.
He hasn’t directed since “Bulworth,” which had Beatty don gangsta threads and vaguely embarrass himself with numerous rap numbers. But he was one of those bigger-than-life characters that dominated the New Hollywood period, only to be left out in the cold after some of its more hedonistic excesses became financially untenable. "Reds" was part of the last-gasp hurrah that existed at the tail-end of the 1970s that is epitomized in the excesses of “Heaven’s Gate” and Francis Ford Coppola’s twin-punch of “Apocalypse Now” (a masterpiece, but not a cheap one) and the bloated “One From the Heart”.
"Bulworth" aside, the last time Beatty strayed into outright comedic territory as a writer/director was "Heaven Can Wait," the frivolous remake of “Here Comes Mr. Jordan” that even his co-star Christie took him to task for wasting his talents on such lightweight fare. And though he’s cropped up in memorable roles since then, the biggest question that Beatty and Paramount CEO Brad Grey should be asking themselves about the actor’s return from semi-retirement: is anyone going to care?