Directed by: Camerone Crowe; Runtime: 105 minutes
Being an enthusiast of Cameron Crowe's work hasn't been an easy thing over the past, oh, ten-plus years, where the likes of Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo received marginal praise and firm criticism. Sure, the kitschy soft-heartedness and blase, buoyant pace of those flicks reveal some flaws in the filmmaker's perspective, flaws which have clearly intensified with time, but there's still something worthwhile to be found there in the intimacy of his characterization and audiovisual lyricism. Boasting a darling cast and the gorgeous Hawaiian setting, the latest film from the writer/director, Aloha, touches on familiar themes -- inopportune love, breaking from the corporate machine, fish-outta-water adjustment -- that surround a tidy romance between a defeated antihero and a chirpy girl who's gonna pull him out of his slump, stuff well within his wheelhouse. Alas, even this supporter of Crowe's imperfect but pleasant-enough output over the last decade can't defend this awkward, disjointed nosedive.
Traditionally, this is where the review will go into further detail about the story, but it's tough to figure out whether more time should be dedicated to explaining what's going on in the plot to help potential viewers out ... or quickly get through the messiness of the script and move on. There are a lot of things going on in Aloha, far more than Crowe can keep coherent within an hour and forty-five minutes: rocket launches and corporate politics, old flames and marriage drama, native Hawaiian patriotism and mythology, and a healthy dose of standoffishness from our mentally and physically wounded rogue. In one way or another, it all involves unforthcoming military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), who's arrived in Hawaii -- the scene of his more significant professional accomplishments and his big missed shot at true love -- to facilitate a joint military-corporate venture that's putting a satellite in the air and breaking ground at a new facility. A lively and persistent local fighter pilot, Allison Ng (Emma Stone), has been assigned to accompany Gilcrest during his stay.
While the verdant tropical landscape, the vibrant tunes of Sigur Ros' Jonsi and Alex, and the attractive faces of these talented stars might be beautiful distractions, they're not distracting enough to a point where folks simply aren't capable of following the nuances of the story, a problem that Aloha runs into shortly after departure. Lacking coherent details behind the situation with this rocket launch, writer/director Crowe abruptly drops Gilrest into the middle of the bustle and constantly forces us to play catch-up with what exactly goes on across the span of an overactive five days, relying on a secondhand pastiche of exposition and vague conversations to piece together the remnants of a plot. Ignoring the particulars of Gilcrest's mission and reducing them to the broadest of strokes -- corporate agendas are duplicitous; United States control stifles native culture; Gilcrest knows things about the launch that others don't -- becomes the only way to embrace what the film wants to be. That surely wasn't intentional in this "love letter" to Hawaii, one with big-hearted ideas about the islands' citizens and their sacred attachment to the land.
Cameron Crowe's work has always been more about emotion resonance than clear dramatic plotting anyway, but even the director's sentimental streak gets lost in static interference here. Frankly, everything in Aloha seems to exist as background noise or story fuel for the unsurprising, complacent romance between Gilcrest and the quarter-Hawaiian Allison, built around resuscitating Gilcrest's positive merits through the energetic musings of yet another Manic Pixie Dream Girl, a moniker coined about Crowe's character in Elizabethtown that serves many of the same functions. Therein lies the problem: this potentially endearing, indomitable female character -- a jet fighter pilot! -- ends up serving functions for the astray male lead without deepening her own character, unhelped by Stone's overclocked performance that plays like she's powered more by too many Red Bulls than Hawaiian "mana", the antithesis to her delightfully subtle effervescence in last year's Magic in the Moonlight. As Alec Baldwin's General Dixon asserts later in the movie, she deserves better.
Somewhere in Aloha looms another of Crowe's signature journeys of reflection and resurrection for a dishonored man of importance, a la Jerry Maguire and Drew Baylor, driven by the triumphs and mistakes of Brian Gilcrest over the past fifteen years that give him just enough clout in Hawaii to accomplish things and just enough personal conflict to complicate matters. The script's cluttered structure and on-the-nose stiffness of dialogue bears most of the blame for the film's problems, but Bradley Cooper essentially playing himself doesn't take any strides to elevate the material, rendering a stilted renegade type of character whose murky despondence and general purpose for returning to Hawaii produce a frustratingly hollow character examination. The personal drama involving Gilcrest's ex-girlfriend from decades ago, Tracy -- along with her stoic military husband, Woody (a strapping John Krasinski) and their two children -- suffocates underneath him as a result, despite the budding catharsis involved and the bittersweet charm of Rachel McAdams' performance as "the one that got away".
Thing is, despite all this, small moments of intimacy and substance still manage to strike chords in Aloha, ones that thrive without investment in the overarching plot. A dance between the idealistic military pilot and the conniving corporate tycoon at a Christmas party, a reunion of sorts for Zombieland cast members Emma Stone and Bill Murray as Carson Welch. The lingering experience in watching familiar characters hula dance, interacting with Hawaii's energy through hand gestures. A silent conversation between Gilcrest and Tracy's husband, built purely out of body language and subtitled for our convenience. These little things offer glimmers of the emotional tempo intended by Crowe, funneling into a brassy, unyieldingly sentimental conclusion built on moral obligation and family duty that's unmistakably of the director's design. In the end, writer/director Crowe makes someone wish that they cared more about these characters instead of actually caring about them, that his feel-good maneuverings had welcomed viewers into the embrace of the islands' magic instead of waving goodbye to the film's meager potential.
For the full Blu-ray review, head over to DVDTalk.com: [Click Here]
Posted by Thomas Spurlin on 8/26/2015