Aloha (2015)

Only the second feature film in the last ten years by director Cameron Crowe, Aloha comes to theaters with a lot of baggage.  Back at the end of 2014, emails about it were revealed during the infamous Sony hack that showed some troubling signs during the production, including a studio executive who was not at all impressed with it.  Still, studio execs are the ones ruining Hollywood with a glut of remakes and sequels, what do they know, right?  Well, as it turns out, they know their stuff.  Sadly, Aloha is a gigantic misfire from a writer/director who has given fans several memorable modern-day classics.  Aloha is aimless, incoherent, and feels completely unimportant.  The only important thing about this film is that it may mark the end of a memorable director’s influential voice.

Military contractor Brian Gilchrist (Bradley Cooper) returns to Hawaii after years away to help work out a deal between the local Hawaiian leaders and his billionaire boss, Carson Welch (Bill Murray), on a civilian gate.  He is assigned a military liaison, Allison Ng (Emma Stone), as his boss is working in conjunction with the military, with the goal of launching a private rocket into space and making Hawaii their future base of operations.  He also reconnects with his old girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams), learning that she is married to John “Woody” Woodside (John Krasinski), the pilot who flew him in to Hawaii, and they have two kids in tow, Grace (Danielle Rose Russell) and Mitchell (Jaeden Lieberher).  As Brian tries to complete his job for Carson, his relationship with Allison challenges him to look at the world differently, embrace the Hawaiian folklore, and maybe atone for past sins and make up for lost time.

It’s a bit depressing to write about this film, because Cameron Crowe is such an accomplished filmmaker, but it seems like he has just lost his way.  It’s almost like a rock singer who has aged and beaten his voice through years of hard living and chain-smoking and just can’t hit the notes he used to at the band’s peak.  There is a ton of sentimentality and earnestness throughout the film, things that are earmarks of a Crowe script, as well as having a major character have to deal with a prior disaster or trauma of some kind (like Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire and Orlando Bloom’s Drew Baylor come to mind immediately).  Here, Cooper’s Brian Gilchrist has basically sold his soul out to a billionaire military industrialist, greasing palms and working deals around the globe, eventually skimming a bit here and there, and almost ending up dead in Afghanistan in the process.  The return to Hawaii is supposed to be his chance at redemption on the business front, but thanks to the Manic Pixie Dream Girl Fighter Pilot/Military Liaison embodied in Stone’s Ng, he ends up having a chance at redeeming his personal life.

There’s a lot wrong here.  The plot is surprisingly convoluted for something revolving around getting a deal done for a civilian gate for a land-breaking ceremony.  Actually, the civilian gate is something of a McGuffin, as it serves only the basic of plot purposes when it’s needed, which becomes a problem because there is no real central thrust to the story.  It wanders around aimlessly and a lot of what the characters are doing outside of their interpersonal relationships feels largely inconsequential.  It’s not really clear what Brian Gilchrist does for Carson Welch, why he needs a military liaison, or why he suddenly becomes essential to an emergency launch at the end of the film.  There’s too many unknown variables and motivations; done the right way that can be mysterious, but here it’s just murky and muddled.  In fact, one of the guys who I thought was working for Welch ended up being a CIA guy who was helping to oversee everything, but that’s never made clear until a line of dialogue at the end.  There is a thread of Hawaiian mythology woven into the story based on Mitchell’s obsession with it, and a lot of talk early on in the movie about a big event coming, and Mitchell thinking Gilchrist is essential to this event, but that thread is essentially dropped by the end of the movie.

The actors involved seem to be doing there best.  Cooper is an actor I enjoy, I’m completely in the bag for Stone, McAdams is solid, and Murray is a legend.  But it just doesn’t work here.  I have to imagine that they had a hard time connecting with the characters they are playing and finding their motivations.  Or they expended so much energy trying to make the dialogue work that they couldn’t connect.  Even still, there is awkward dialogue and line deliveries that seem rushed and forced, a scene between Cooper and McAdams in her kitchen comes immediately to mind when Cooper rushes to get through the line “I can’t even remember why we broke up.”  Krasinski is given an unenviable task of having to play a strong, silent type to the extreme.  It’s not that his character is stoic or shy even, he just doesn’t talk.  It is supposed to be funny but also be a source of contention between he and McAdams because of the lack of communication.  Even if it does pay off in a scene of unspoken dialogue between Krasinski and Cooper at the end that is genuinely funny because of the two actors, it still comes across as forced and gimmicky for the most part.  Also, how Gilchrist interacts with Tracy’s kids, Grace and Mitchell, is odd and problematic, because it is strongly hinted at early and then the film comes right out and confirms later, that Grace is in fact his daughter (if this were a better film I wouldn’t spoil this), but he spends most of the time connecting with Mitchell.

Crowe has never been known for his cinematography, his films are more about the dialogue, but this film completely wastes the Hawaiian landscape and the cinematography in general is questionable and odd.  The opening scenes on the tarmac after Gilchrist arrives in Hawaii have these weird, hand-held tracking shots over someone’s shoulder and then extreme close-ups of actors faces.  In a typical Cameron Crowe film that has great dialogue and characters, much of that could be ignored, but it sticks out here.

It’s hard to figure out what exactly happened here or how Crowe could misfire in this way, especially since Crowe has been working on it in some for or other since 2007.  How nobody stepped in at any point from there to actual filming and told him (or that he didn’t realize) that there is not much to any of this, is shocking.  It feels generic, but it also feels like someone trying to do a poor imitation of a Cameron Crowe film, which means Crowe has ventured into  borderline self-parody territory.

Rating: 1 1/2 out of 5 stars

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