A film review by Craig J. Koban June 11, 2015



2015, PG-13, 105 mins.


Bradley Cooper as Brian Gilcrest  /  Emma Stone as Allison Ng  /  Rachel McAdams as Tracy  /  John Krasinski as Woody  /  Danny McBride as Colonel Lacy  /  Sugar Lyn Beard as Benedict  /  Edi Gathegi as Cam Curtis  /  Bill Murray as Carson Welch  /  Alec Baldwin as General Dixon

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe

The name Cameron Crowe once inspired confidence when seen on the credits of a movie poster.  

This is the same writer/director that made such era defining classics like SAY ANYTHING in the 1980’s and JERRY MAGUIRE in the 1990’s.  Then came middling efforts from Crowe like 2001’s VANILLA SKY and even more problematic turns like 2006’s ELIZABETHTOWN and 2011’s WE BOUGHT A ZOO.  Considering that Crowe has made some of the most indelible and iconic romcoms of all-time it's easy to acknowledge that a certain set of expectations come into play when seeing every one of his new films.  His newest film ALOHA, rather regrettably, continues the downward creative spiral for the once acclaimed filmmaker.  

ALOHA is a Crowe film at its most meandering and clunky.  Here’s a film that wants to be several things at once – a touching romcom, a tender salute to Hawaiian people and their cultural customs, and, yes, a parable about the uneasy marriage between big industry and the military – and it most definitely fails to coalesce with any reasonable symmetry.  More often than not, ALOHA struggles to keep all of its disparaging and oddly interconnected plot threads moving forward, leaving a numbing sensation that Crowe appears to have been essentially spinning his wheels and making it up as he went along.  Ultimately, ALOHO is a film that has a deep personality and identity crisis that Crowe can’t seem to adequately deal with; he simply has no real idea what he wants to accomplish here, leaving viewers at a bewildering distance. 

The cast, though, is wonderfully assembled.  Bradley Cooper plays Brain Gilcrest, a former military man that has decided to retire from field duty due to a battlefront injury and has now joined the private sector.  Early in the film he has arrived in Hawaii to embark on a new assignment for his employer Carson Welch (Bill Murray), a multi-billionaire industrialist that wants to make Hawaii the new epicenter for a vast rocket launch site.  Brian and Carson’s working relationship has hit some stumbling blocks, seeing as he did a serious of questionable jobs for him in Afghanistan, which left him with the aforementioned injury and a permanent limp (that seems to have a manner of appearing and disappearing at will in the film, but never mind).  Despite his misgivings with working yet again with Carson, Brian nonetheless wants to start afresh in the tropical state. 



Things, alas, get very complicated for him when he reconnects with an old girlfriend from the past Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who has long since moved on, married a hunky airman named Woody (John Krasinski), and has two kids.  While dealing with this socially awkward reunion, Brain desperately tries to find a workable manner of dealing with a local sovereign nation leader (Dennis Bumpy Kanahele) and convince him of the worthiness of his boss’ plans in his nation while not entirely relaying what Carson  actually plans to do.  His co-pilot, so to speak, during all of his islands adventures is his military handler Allison Ng (Emma Stone), who seems almost impossibly sassy, optimistic, and eager to please Brain at every turn.  Rather predictably, the spunky Allison attempts to break through Brain’s tough and nihilistic façade, and – uh huh –  his icy emotional defenses begin to indeed thaw and he finds himself falling for her.  His newfound romance gets very thorny when the actual details of Carson’s plans come to the forefront (that have obvious conflicts with local customs and traditions), which causes major ideological riffs between Brian and Allison, the latter who steadfastly prides herself on being a faithful and supportive Hawaiian native. 

Just what the hell is going on in ALOHA?  The film just seems like a bewildering collage of individual moments, confrontations, and ideas that never seem to stick together.  There’s just so much crammed in ALOHA that the personal stakes of the characters begin to take a backseat to the confusing narrative.  Am I supposed to care about Tracy and her on again, off again flirting with Brain?  Am I supposed to care about how the re-emergence of Brian back into her life has put strains of her marriage with Woody?  Am I supposed to care about Brain’s connection with Allison and yearn for her to find a true heart to heart connection with him?  Am I supposed to care about the plight of the native Hawaiians and their protection of the customs with the advance of Carson’s military industrial business ventures?  I’m going cross-eyed. 

To be fair, Hawaii does indeed look visually gorgeous in ALOHA, and Crowe seems passionately determined to make the state look like an inviting setting throughout.  What’s lost in his apparent love of this location and its people, though, is perhaps the very people that populate it.  Controversial accusations of whitewashing ALOHA with a largely white cast have dogged Crowe and his production for months, which certainly has some credence.  Despite his efforts to hone in  aspects of his screenplay on one nation leader and the mystical level of mythology that exists in Hawaii, ALOHA could have just as well been set in any other state, or country for that matter.  When all is said and done, Hawaii just becomes a pretty looking background for Crowe’s characters to populate, leaving any attempts on his part to sincerely deal with the land’s people and practices coming off as superficial at best. 

You also know that you’re in trouble with a director makes a public apology after the film’s release for the casting choice of one of his main characters, which Crowe did in regards to Stone’s Allison.  Now, Allison is revealed to be part Asian/part Hawaiian, which leaves Stone’s casting as a beyond obvious distraction.  Beyond that, her character is like an inconsistent pendulum that teeters back and forth from one extreme to the next.  One moment she’s a hyperactive cauldron of good vibes with an almost childlike infatuation with Brain…and then in other scenes she’s either a headstrong and independent minded woman or one that throws her inhibitions into the wind to dance with Murray’s Carson to Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” (actually one of the better scenes in the film).  It’s never really fully established why she even wants to be with Brian…outside of Crowe’s script telling us that it’s a foregone conclusion.  The whole love triangle between Brian, Tracy and Allison also seems like it's on obligatory and pathetic autopilot. 

Other characters pop up, abruptly leave, and then reappear late in the proceedings when deemed necessary (Murray does wonders in small key scenes with a dreadfully underwritten character, and Krasinski scores some of the film’s best laughs with his non-verbal manner of communicating his feelings to Brain, which culminates in a hilarious moment between the two done with silence and subtitles).  Yet, there’s no clear-cut road map for any of these would-be intriguing personalities, seeing as Crowe’s script is ultimately shapeless and haphazardly careens towards a hastily artificial feel-good denouement that never feels earned.  The climax itself – dealing with Carson’s unethical rocket launch in Hawaii and Brian dealing with some Chinese cyber terrorists trying to derail it – seems like it laughably belongs in a whole other film altogether.   

ALOHA is a mess.  An absolute mess.  The love story feels hackneyed and false.  The Hawaiian surroundings are used for eye candy and very little else.  Too many characters and too many subplots vie for narrative domination.  Hell, even Crowe’s trademark dialogue (usually crackling with spontaneous levels of effervescent wit and energy) seems more strained than ever.  For a film as slapdash as this to emerge from an accomplished filmmaker like Crowe is depressing.  At this stage in his career he doesn’t have to go back to the creative well as much as he has to just do something…different. I still have faith in Crowe, but it’s waning. Big time.

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