Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Cameron Crowe
Stars: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Joh Krasinski, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin, Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Camp, Danielle Rose Russell.
Former Rolling Stone journalist turned filmmaker Cameron Crowe has made a handful of great films in his career, including the charming Say Anything, the semi-autobiographical Almost Famous, and Jerry Maguire with a cocky Tom Cruise. But his latest film is another misstep in his career, and follows the box office flops that were Vanilla Sky and Elizabethtown.
Aloha is a romantic comedy/drama set against the picturesque scenery of Hawaii, and features a stellar cast, but it somehow manages to misfire on just about every other level.
Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a former defence contractor who has returned to Hawaii in the employ of shady and eccentric multibillionaire businessman and telecommunications giant Carson Welch (Bill Murray) to help him launch a private satellite. Gilcrest was once a high flyer in the military, but following an incident in Afghanistan he has fallen from favour. He is also cynical about the world around him. This is his last chance to prove himself. Gilcrest has to negotiate some sort of deal with a group of nationalists to use their land to secure the launch of the satellite and expand the air force base. Why Brian is the only person capable of doing this is never fully explained.
He crosses paths with Tracy (Rachel McAdams), his former girlfriend whom he left behind over a decade ago. She is now married to taciturn pilot Woody (John Krasinski), who communicates through a series of grunts and gestures, but there are a number of unresolved issues between the pair that create some tension, and need to be addressed before Brian can move on. A further complication comes in the form of tenacious, tea-drinking hot shot pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who is appointed his liaison during the mission. She is on the fast track to promotion, and she has a salute so sharp that it would take out an eye. Sparks fly between the two and their friendly banter leads to a relationship that blurs the line between the professional and the personal. And she eventually pricks his conscience about the true nature of his mission.
But once the mechanics of the story kick in, the film becomes bogged down in its rather convoluted and laboured plot, one that ultimately makes little sense. It is also rather boring, and the pacing is too laid back for its own good.
Crowe often creates strong female characters (consider Renee Zellweger in Jerry Maguire and Kirsten Dunst in Elizabethtown). McAdams has the better role here as Brian’s former love interest, and she brings a vulnerability to her performance. Stone always has a perky presence, but here she is miscast in a mixed race role that is supposedly part Asian, part Hawaiian and part American. When a director is forced to issue a public apology about one of the characters he has created then there is obviously a problem. Cooper looks bemused for most of the time, and it’s almost as if he spends the movie wondering just what he has let himself in for.
Jaeden Lieberher, who was so good in the recent St Vincent and matched Bill Murray every step of the way, brings some charm to his performance as Mitchell, Tracy’s precocious and inquisitive younger son who is obsessed with Hawaiian mythology. Worst of all the usually watchable Murray is unable to breathe much life into his ill-conceived character, and seems to be coasting along on autopilot. Krasinski makes the most of his largely wordless role, and there is one very amusing scene in which subtitles convey his meaning. Alec Baldwin makes the most of his couple of scenes as a bellicose, belligerent Air Force General, although most of his memorable moments will be familiar to anyone who sat through the film’s trailer.
Much of the film’s failings lie in the curiously inert script from Crowe. Normally he is a great writer of witty banter and great dialogue, but here much of it sounds artificial and forced, and is delivered in unconvincing and highly stylised and unnatural sounding fashion by a cast seemingly uncommitted to the task. And a potentially interesting subplot exploring issues of native land rights and the plight of indigenous Hawaiians is ultimately glossed over and ditched half way through proceedings to allow Crowe to focus on the romantic entanglements of his characters.
There is some great scenery though which has been beautifully shot by French cinematographer Eric Gautier (The Motorcycle Diaries, etc), but we don’t get enough of this.
As a former music journalist though Crowe has always been able to load his films with great soundtracks, and Aloha is no exception, featuring the likes of Fleetwood Mac, etc. For a fuller appreciation of Aloha it may be a good idea to skip the film altogether and just buy the soundtrack, settle back at home and enjoy the music!