ALOHA Movie Review – Cameron Crowe Strikes Out Again
Cameron Crowe’s (We Bought a Zoo, Elizabethtown, Vanilla Sky, Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire, Fast Times at Ridgemont High) decade-long slide into mediocrity and, ultimately, irrelevancy continues with his latest film, Aloha, a whitewashed, Hawaii-set romantic comedy minus both the romance and the comedy. Already on the proverbial ropes due last winter’s Sony leaks, not to mention a release date change from December, prime Oscar-contender territory, to late May, a time when big budget blockbusters are the norm, not the exception, Aloha fails on every level, beginning with Crowe’s tone-deaf, clichéd screenplay, off-center or wasted performances, and ending with the risible attempt to inject weighty themes and ideas into a thin, underdeveloped story.
Aloha centers on Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), a defense contractor with a failed mission in Afghanistan on his résumé, an on-again, off-again limp, and a second chance at professional redemption from his Elon Musk-like boss, Carson Welch (Bill Murray), a billionaire set to launch a new satellite from the U.S. military’s Hawaiian base. Through his company, Global One, Welch has promised to invest locally to expand and extend the military’s launch facilities. To do that, however, would mean running afoul of Native Hawaiians who consider at least part of the land sacred. Welch tasks Gilcrest with convincing the local Hawaiian chief, Dennis Bumpy Kanahele, to give his literal blessing to the new development. Given Gilcrest’s checkered past, Welch and Gilcrest’s former superiors, Colonel ‘Fingers’ Lacy (Danny McBride) and General Dixon (Alec Baldwin), assign a young, on-the-rise fighter pilot and captain, Allison Ng (Emma Stone).
Almost immediately, Crowe sets up — or rather tries to set up — a combative relationship between the pessimistic, cynical Gilcrest and the optimistic, positive Ng. We know, as obviously Crowe hoped we’d know, that we’re watching a romantic comedy, meaning Gilcrest and Ng will eventually transition from antagonists to (potential) lovers. Unfortunately, Crowe seems to have lost the ability to write persuasive dialogue of any kind. What’s supposed to pass for character revealing, humorous banter falls flat repeatedly. Crowe doesn’t do himself or the audience any favors by pushing Ng’s ancestry (she’s ¼ Hawaiian, as she never tires of telling anyone) and familiarity with Hawaiian culture and customs. It feels like misguided (at best) or cynical (at worst) cultural appropriation. Another secondary character, this time a young preteen, Mitchell (Jaeden Lieberher), who’s constantly going on about Hawaiian myths and Gilcrest’s function in a modern version of those myths, only compounds the problem.
Crowe throws the obligatory wrench into Gilcrest and Ng’s burgeoning romance through Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), Gilcrest’s one-time girlfriend. Gilcrest’s return to Hawaii after 13 years rekindles something in them, but her marriage to John ‘Woody’ (John Krasinski), a man of so few words he probably speaks all of ten words throughout Aloha, makes any kind of romantic reconciliation a non-starter — or at least should, otherwise Gilcrest’s questionable ethics and dubious morality would tip him firmly out of the “hero” mode romantic comedies need to succeed. Tracey also has two kids, the aforementioned Mitchell, and Grace (Danielle Rose Russell), Mitchell’s older sister. Crowe adds to Gilcrest’s romantic burdens — the women, as always, exist for the hero’s self-actualization, personal growth, and redemption — by adding an entire subplot involving the military-industrial complex and the militarization of space.
If Aloha seems overburdened with too many subplots and too many themes, it’s because it is. Crowe tries to say so much about adult relationships, the messy compromises, the long-held regrets and disappointments, the need to move on and self-actualize while making peace with your past, along with a pro-military, anti-privatization message, that he ultimately doesn’t say anything at all, or rather he does, but it’s faux-profound and superficial. Without the crackling, biting dialogue, a convincing, well-developed romance, or cohesive, coherent storytelling that characterized his pre-Elizabethtown efforts, Aloha was doomed to fail and fail it did. Crowe seems to have lost the gifts that once, not that long ago, made him one of our better mainstream storytellers. Maybe next time, he should leave screenwriting duties to someone else and stick with directing.