Aloha – Cameron Crowe has assembled an alluring cast in Hawaiian paradise, but based on what he’s given them to do and how they do it, you may never want to see any of them ever again.
The cheesy name of the hotel where much of the action takes place here pretty much says it all: the Royal Aloha Hotel. Cameron Crowe, in another attempt to repeat his Jerry Maguire success, has set his latest in Hawaii, and gets it wrong on almost every level. He posits Bradley Cooper as a wounded war vet, Brian Gilcrest, who’s also a celebrated military contractor/defense worker. His new task is to return to the 50th state, scene of his past triumphs, to assist in the launch of an important satellite missile. He is assigned an overeager Air Force aide, Allison Ng (Emma Stone). At first an oil-and-water collision, affection slowly grows between the two, complicated by Brian’s encountering an old but still-palpitating love, Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), now married to an infuriatingly taciturn soldier, Woody (John Krasinski), with two kids (Daniele Rose Russell and Jaiden Lieberher) of her own.
One wonders if Crowe was inspired to do Aloha after the success of Alexander Payne’s similarly Hawaii-set The Descendants, with the difference being that Payne’s filmmaking had a vibrantly organic connection to the place, while Crowe just flubs it continually. There is, to begin with, the casting of Stone, the whitest, blondest and most blue-eyed of actresses, as a character who is supposedly half Chinese-Hawaiian. Crowe sprinkles his script with Hawaiian words and cultural references, but coming out of so many Caucasian mouths, including Tracy’s obnoxious little boy who is obsessed with local legends, the effect is more grating than endearingly relevant. Part of Gilcrest’s mission is to smooth relations with Hawaii’s contentious, self-righteous sovereign-state movement, which means meetings with the real-life so-called king of the islands, Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, at his refuge of a homestead kingdom in Waimanalo. These scenes have a queasy mix of Native American reverence and plain cluelessness, as when Allison suddenly shows a proficiency with the guitar as she sits in with some of the island’s foremost musicians at a luau jam session. Crowe attempts mightily to be “inside Hawaii” here, but comes off as a presumptuous tourist.
Hawaiian politics are but one element in the unwieldy stewpot Crowe has concocted. That missile mission is a jumble of anti-venal vested interest posturing involving Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray caricaturing themselves as geezer-y powerbrokers. But no one in the cast comes off very well (except maybe Danny McBride, who retains a certain natural charm), having to battle Crowe’s inexhaustibly precious, overwritten dialogue. “You fill her sky” here seems a creepy echo of Jerry Maguire’s “You complete me.” (Crowe once wrote an idolatrous book about Billy Wilder; Wilder he ain’t.) The movie also queasily veers into soap opera, with the parentage of Tracy’s daughter called into question, all of it highly predictable and rather cheap.
Both Cooper and Stone have been terrific in other films, but based on their strained, cornball efforts here, I would almost gladly never see them again. Both work way too hard, he at a manfully suppressed emotional depth and complexity, which merely comes off as pure narcissism, and she at the kind of perky can-do officiousness which only a Jean Arthur could make adorable. When Cooper and Krasinski share a totally silent male-bonding moment, the unspoken words of which are provided by cutesy subtitles, you might hear some laughter, but that would probably be Crowe himself, enjoying his own confounded cleverness.
David Noh is a writer living in Manhattan, who toils for what that good writer Ethan Mordden once described as publications “with occult circulation.” Originally from Honolulu, another sexy, overcrowded isle, on his first teenaged visit to New York, he went to the Museum of Modern Art where programmers Charles Silver and Stephen Harvey screened Leo McCarey’s THE AWFUL TRUTH for him.
He was never the same again.