Sometimes you have to say goodbye before you can say hello.
Remember the days when director Cameron Crowe made good films? Crowe’s early Oscar winning pictures, Jerry Maguire (1996) and the terrific Almost Famous (2000) — his vanity project, a semi-autobiographical flick based on his teenage career as reporter working for Rolling Stone magazine — were fueled by warmth, humor and compassion as the writer-director dissected the challenges we face in our everyday lives as humans. Even his initial missteps, Vanilla Sky (2001) and Elizabethtown (2005), were somewhat vaguely passable; nonetheless, Crowe’s downward spiral began with 2011’s We Bought a Zoo, where it seemed as though the once great filmmaker had switched to autopilot mode. Crowe’s latest flick, Aloha, isn’t absolutely dreadful — it’s got a solid cast and features some decent moments — but the film, as a whole, is such a staggering muddle when it comes to plot and character arcs that it’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what it’s about.
Straight off the bat, it’s hard to explain the story of Aloha, not because it’s a complexly woven narrative, in fact, it’s just the opposite, as this cutesy tale is brimming with loose story threads, corny dialog and a plethora of mushy Hallmark Card moments. The plot centers on Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) a disgraced military officer who puts his jaded past behind him in order to work for private contractors; although one slip-up could potentially get him fired, sued or even jailed. Gilcrest gets a chance at redemption when he is hired by rich industrialist Carson Welch (Bill Murray) and sent to Hawaii with the task of getting a blessing from one of the local tribes to allow Welch to launch a new satellite into the sky. Upon his arrival, Gilcrest is assigned an Air Force ‘watchdog’ to keep him in line, in the form of Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a USAF fighter pilot who believes in all the cultural myths of the island and tries to instil her beliefs into the skeptical Gilcrest. Things get complicated for Brian as soon as he arrives, running into his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), right after landing — who lives on the island with her two children and uncommunicative husband, John ‘Woody’ Woodside (John Krasinski) — then later develops chemistry with his overseer Ng. Now, what should have been a straightforward assignment turns into a messy affair as Gilcrest attempts to solve long-standing issues with his old flame, figure out his romantic feelings towards Ng whilst dealing with the fact that Welch’s intentions may not be as clear-cut as he originally claimed.
Aloha is a classic example of a filmmaker biting off more than he can chew, as Crowe takes elements from the romantic-comedy, science-fiction and family-drama genres, but never quite finds a way to amalgamate them all into a focused piece that’s worth watching. The picture’s first two-thirds lacks much-needed exposition as Crowe fails to highlight the film’s central plot and viewers remain puzzled as they follow Gilcrest around Hawaii — from one staggering location to the next — never fully understanding what he’s working on, what he’s even doing there or why he’s depressed in the first place. Furthermore, Crowe throws Hawaiian mythology, tradition and ritualistic ceremonies into the mix, together with a half-baked message about ‘weapons contracting’ late in the game, further complicating the narrative; Allison’s repeated requests to get Brian to understand Hawaiian culture fail to go anywhere whereas the sub-plot revolving around Brian’s reconciliation with Tracy, after a 13-year absence, takes too long to unfold. What gradually plays out is a hybrid of weak plot-threads and exhausting set-ups that blur the lines of credibility to such an extent that it becomes almost impossible to sympathize with the characters on screen or believe the scenarios that they find themselves in — a scene where a satellite goes into nostalgia overdrive will surely have most cackling under their breath or rolling their eyes. While there is a splash of sincerity in the film’s closure, it’s too little and far too late.
Thankfully, Cooper and Stone share a couple of genuine interactions — one scene in particular may compel viewers’ inner voice to cry out, ‘kiss her already’ — but alas, these moments are few and far between as Crowe wastes precious screen time attempting to juxtapose Gilcrest and Allison’s brewing romance to the rocket launch into outer space — seemingly making two unrelated subjects connect — and ultimately fails to penetrate the heart of the relationship, which never comes into fruition. Crowe’s screenplay also lacks the pizzazz of his past work — there are no ‘Show me the money!’ or ‘You had me at hello’ lines — as he is clearly more interested in faux-philosophical jargon than affairs of the heart. Given Crowe’s previous triumphs as a filmmaker, it’s unlikely that he alone is responsible for this incoherent effort as most of his pictures are narratively firm and for these reasons, it’s clear that studio interference may have hindered the finished product; the feature apparently went through some re-edits after Sony’s leaked e-mails signified heavy studio dissatisfaction with the piece. It’s almost as if the writers haven’t even bothered to connect the story dots and are still unsure whether to sell the feature as a drama or a comedy.
Adding insult to injury, the picture squanders the bulk of its impressive cast — who turn in decent performances, given their jumbled characters. Bradley Cooper, American Sniper (2014) — currently one of Hollywood’s most charismatic stars — does the best he can with Crowe’s hammy material while Rachel McAdams, Midnight in Paris (2011), is pushed to the side for much of the flick with very little to do bar drink beer and hang around her house. Then there’s the misguided decision to hire the wonderful Emma Stone, The Help (2011) — with her strawberry blonde locks, green eyes and freckles — to play the part-Asian character of Allison Ng, which goes against the idea of truthfully representing people in film along with the notion of racial diversity; views that contemporary audiences are crying out to see more of. While Caucasians, in reality, make up a mere 30% of the Hawaiian population, after watching Aloha, one might wrongly assume that it’s more like 90%. Sadly, the film’s many cultural issues go far beyond its poor casting alone. Moving on, Bill Murray, Lost in Translation (2003), is wasted as the tycoon Carson Welch — a role that anyone could have played — even a tick-laden Danny McBride, Pineapple Express (2008), who portrays Colonel ‘Fingers’ Lacy, is mostly ineffective in his minor comic relief role. Let’s not overlook the unconvincing caricature parts of the wordless Woody — a forgettable John Krasinski, Away We Go (2009) — with a scene between Brian and Woody playing out as though it were plucked straight from a stupid Adam Sandler comedy while Alec Baldwin, The Departed (2006), shouts the majority of his lines as the testy honcho, General Dixon. What a tragic waste of talent!
Given Crowe’s background in music, Aloha features a solid soundtrack by the likes of Hall & Oates and Tears for Fears, which essentially stands as the flick’s only real virtue. At the end of the day, however, Aloha is a frustrating piece to sit through as each new establishing shot — showcasing Hawaii’s picturesque scenery — provides a fresh silver lining of sorts, yet writer-director Crowe somehow always manages to sink back into the mangled chaos that eventually chokes the life out of his film. Despite the tremendous amount of talent at his disposal, Crowe’s oddly titled and overly sappy Aloha fails to deliver on most accounts, finding the once thriving filmmaker as a shadow of his former self. There’s clearly trouble in paradise!
2 / 5 – Average
Reviewed by Mr. Movie
Aloha is released through 20th Century Fox Australia
I don’t know what happened to Crowe. This is a guy who could create great characters, memorable, quotable dialogue and tell good, interesting stories. I had a feeling he was losing it when I saw Elizabethtown, this only reaffirms my feeling. Great Review, though.