D: Cameron Crowe / 105m
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin, Bill Camp, Jaeden Lieberher, Danielle Rose Russell
After being injured in Afghanistan, Brian Gilcrest (Cooper) is invalided out of the Army and goes to work as a private defence contractor for billionaire Carson Welch (Murray). Welch is looking to consolidate two army posts in Hawaii and launch a telecoms satellite at the same time, having made a deal with the military. As his representative, Brian is tasked with seeking permission from the leader of the Nation of Hawaii for a blessing to be carried out on the site of the combined army bases’ new gate. Given a military liaison in the form of Allison Ng (Stone), Brian also has to contend with the presence of his ex-girlfriend, Tracy Woodside (McAdams). She has two children, twelve year old Grace (Russell) and younger son Mitch (Lieberher), and is married to pilot “Woody” Woodside (Krasinski).
Brian and Allison meet with the Hawaiian Nation’s leader and they reach an agreement about the blessing, but it’s as much to do with Allison’s presence as it is Brian’s. He begins to reassess her opinion of her, while fending off Tracy’s attempts to get him to talk about the reasons they broke up thirteen years ago. With the blessing assured, Welch lets Brian in on the details of the satellite launch, but when he accesses the USB stick he’s been given he finds the satellite has an extra payload that nobody has mentioned: a missile system. Brian is aware that what Welch is doing is illegal, but he feels a sense of obligation to him and keeps the information to himself, also knowing that he’s promised the Nation of Hawaii that the skies above their land won’t be populated with weaponry.
His relationship with Allison deepens, and they spend much of his remaining time together. But her quarter-Hawaiian heritage and belief in the myths and legends of the islands begins to play on his conscience. On the day of the launch however, Welch calls Brian urgently to the launch centre to deal with an attempt by Chinese hackers to access the satellite. With Allison next to him he sets about protecting the satellite, while also being aware that this is his only opportunity to stop Welch’s plans for the payload.
Cameron Crowe’s career has had its fair share of setbacks in recent years, with his movies failing to capture fully the early promise shown by Say Anything… (1989) and Singles (1992). Jerry Maguire (1996) was perhaps his most fully realised project, and Almost Famous perhaps the one he was most passionate about. But then he changed tack with the remake of Vanilla Sky (2001), a movie that defied even his and Tom Cruise’s talents to make interesting. Four years later he returned with Elizabethtown (2005), a movie that seemed to play to his strengths as a writer/director, but which was so unsure of itself that it ended up collapsing in on itself (and featured an awkward performance from Orlando Bloom). It was even longer before he directed another feature, the based-on-a-true-story tale We Bought a Zoo (2011), but it lacked that certain spark that would have elevated it above its TV movie of the week feel.
And so, after another break, Crowe is back with Aloha, another movie in which the main character is redeemed by the love of a good woman, while coming to terms with the mistakes of his past. It’s a simple movie, told in a straightforward style, with few stylistic flourishes, and features cosmetically interesting performances from Cooper and Stone. It’s a movie that doesn’t aim very high, and as a result feels tired and worn out from the start. It also features a raft of characters that are hard to care about – Brian, Tracy, “Woody” – or serve no useful purpose other than to give certain actors – McBride, Baldwin, Camp – another role to add to their CV’s. Only Stone and Murray make anything of the material, but that shouldn’t be regarded as anything other than a major achievement in the face of a script that Crowe appears not to have worked on beyond the first draft.
Crowe’s script is so uneven and rife with so many coincidences that after a while the viewer has no choice but to just go with the movie, knowing exactly where it’s going and with no sense that anything will be a surprise. There’s a subplot involving Tracy’s daughter that is signposted so clumsily that even a blind person could spot it, and Crowe doesn’t even try and throw some mystery onto the subject; it also leads to the most cringeworthy scene in the whole movie. But that’s not as bad as when Brian discovers the weapons payload on the satellite, another clumsy moment that smacks of Crowe’s desperate need to beef up the drama and give himself a final act (as if Brian dealing with Allison and Tracy wasn’t enough). And everything’s all wrapped up neatly by the end – only a bow is missing to complete the effect.
It’s sad to see a writer/director of Crowe’s talent waste his time on something so unexceptional and bland. That he still has a certain caché is good, but the anticipation for Aloha that was garnered by the trailer has been soundly trampled on, leaving only Baldwin’s description of Cooper as “Mr Sexy Pants” as one of the few things to look forward to. Perhaps next time, Crowe will direct someone else’s script, or work with someone who’ll be able to strengthen his ideas and material. Either way, if he’s in the same two seats again as writer and director, then the anticipation might not be as great as it was on this occasion.
Rating: 4/10 – dull, uninspired, and lacking any degree of charm to help offset the tedium of the narrative, Aloha arrives looking like a new, shiny dollar, but leaves looking like a battered nickel; Crowe misjudges almost everything, and only the technical credits warrant any merit, making the movie inviting to look at, but sadly hollow upon closer inspection.