Film Review: ‘Aloha’

'Aloha' Review: Cameron Crowe's Worst Film
Courtesy of Columbia Pictures

Bradley Cooper plays a disillusioned ex-pilot in this fascinating misfire from writer-director Cameron Crowe.

Unbalanced, unwieldy, and at times nearly unintelligible, “Aloha” is unquestionably Cameron Crowe’s worst film. Paced like a record on the wrong speed, or a Nancy Meyers movie recut by an over-caffeinated Jean-Luc Godard, the film bears all the telltale signs of a poorly executed salvage operation disfigured in the editing bay. But as far as misfires from great American filmmakers go, it’s a fascinating one, less a simple failed Cameron Crowe film than a total deconstruction. Given its rather extraordinary bad pre-release buzz and what is sure to be poor word of mouth from any viewer expecting a new “Jerry Maguire” (or even a new “Elizabethtown”), the film’s commercial prospects look murky. But when faced with a work this fatally misguided, one can only hope it will serve an emetic purpose, a cleansing of the system before Crowe can get his mojo working again.

Speaking of that pre-release buzz, the specter of failure surrounding “Aloha” took on a life of its own over the past few months. From former Sony Pictures co-chief Amy Pascal’s fierce critiques in those infamous hacked memos, to Hawaiian groups expressing concern, sight unseen, that the film would represent a whitewashing of native culture, the project was put through the wringer long before critics and most industryites even had a chance to see it.

As it turns out, those concerns are the least of the pic’s worries. By the time the film is actually unleashed on the world, viewers are more likely to be grumbling about the fact that, despite an introductory voiceover and numerous rapid-fire bursts of expository dialogue, it takes an exceedingly long time to figure out just who the characters are, what they want, and what they’re doing.

“Aloha” centers on Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), a disillusioned former pilot and space aficionado with a shadowy past in Afghanistan, who is currently working as a military contractor for a flamboyant industrialist (Bill Murray). He’s en route to Oahu to supervise the “blessing of a pedestrian gate.” The precise nature and purpose of this task is hazy, but it seems to involve some bargaining with natives on a sanctuary, the relocation of ancient bones, and a mysterious satellite launch.

Immediately after stepping off the plane, Gilcrest is confronted by old flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who is married to a hard-working Air Force recruit (John Krasinski) who has recently stopped speaking. (At times this simply means he’s taciturn; at others he appears to be an actual mute.) Meanwhile, the local colonel (Danny McBride) has arranged for Gilcrest to be accompanied by a handler — a fast-talking, by-the-book fighter pilot named Allison Ng (Emma Stone). She’s proudly one-quarter Hawaiian, a plot point that’s sure to raise red flags, though in context it plays more like a running joke, akin to the lily-white frat brother who talks endlessly about his vague Cherokee heritage.

On that note, while it’s perfectly germane to ask why an actual Hawaiian actress couldn’t have tackled the part, “Aloha” is hardly culturally insensitive. It’s true that the major characters are all haole (Ng’s quarter aside), as one might expect from a film set mostly on a U.S. military base. But to be fair, “Aloha” goes deeper into the vicissitudes of Hawaiian heritage than any Hollywood film of recent memory. Real-life Nation of Hawaii leader Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele plays himself in a substantial cameo role — wearing a T-shirt that reads “Hawaiian by Birth, American by Force” — precisely to lament mainlander imperialism, and island myths factor heavily, if typically obliquely, into the story. 

As Ng and Gilcrest criss-cross the islands, doing whatever it is that they’re supposed to be doing, they hatch a hesitant romance and may or may not have a supernatural experience, while Gilcrest’s sporadic discussions with Tracy hint at the questionable parentage of her preteen daughter (Danielle Rose Russell). The overarching themes here appear to be Gilcrest’s redemption — though what he’s being redeemed for is never satisfactorily articulated – and the preservation of Hawaii’s sacred aura, as underscored by Tracy’s precocious, videocamera-toting son (Jaeden Lieberher), who proves to be an encyclopedic fount of knowledge about the fertility god Lono.  

Most, but certainly not all, of these divergent narrative strands come together by the end, yet the filmmaking is so haphazard that it’s hard to care about any of it. Crowe’s once-deft touch for breezy, epigrammatic profundity has eluded him on his past few features, from the self-parodic “Elizabethtown” to the harmlessly mediocre “We Bought a Zoo,” but it’s hard to understand how a writer-director as good as he is could make a film this thoroughly scattered and dysfunctional. Sometimes “Aloha” almost feels like an expression of frustration, a frantic feature-length attempt to bundle all his narrative tics and stray emotional bric-a-brac into a rocket and blast it off into space.

And as for the characters, Gilcrest is both over-explained and inscrutable, and Cooper never quite finds the right register to bring him to life. Ng is almost fleshed out by Stone’s energetic performance, though the character’s essential contradictions — for one, she’s terrified of the idea of weaponized satellites polluting the peaceful purity of the Hawaiian sky, even though she’s a fighter pilot — keep her feeling like an undercooked writerly device. Cooper has charming chemistry with McAdams in individual scenes, but their relationship never quite gels. And an unkempt Murray appears to have been given free rein to simply goof off through his scenes, making the pic’s already befuddling military intrigue subplot even more surreal.

Despite all these faults, the film isn’t entirely unpleasant. Alec Baldwin gets to unleash his most full-throated bellow as a dyspeptic general. Cooper and Krasinski have a pantomimed conversation that’s quite funny. And Stone and Murray stage a dance-off to Hall and Oates that’s appealing for reasons which should be self-explanatory, even if it might as well have been shot at the wrap party, for all the sense it makes to the narrative.

Production design, camerawork and art direction are all topnotch, and the film showcases a bevy of beautiful island landscapes with nary a swimming pool nor a beach resort in sight. Hawaiian folk music supplements Crowe’s predictable classic rock selections on the soundtrack well enough, and a score from Sigur Ros offshoot Jonsi and Alex is appropriately transporting.

Film Review: 'Aloha'

Reviewed at the Grove, Los Angeles, May 26, 2015. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 104 MIN.

Production

A Sony Pictures Entertainment release of a Columbia Pictures, Regency Entertainment presentation in association with LStar Capital, RatPac Entertainment of a Scott Rudin, Vinyl Films production. Produced by Cameron Crowe, Scott Rudin. Executive producers, Ilona Herzberg, Eli Bush, Ben Waisbren.

Crew

Directed, written by Cameron Crowe. Camera (color), Eric Gautier; editor, Joe Hutshing; music, Jonsi and Alex; production designer, Clay Griffith; costume designer, Deborah L. Scott; art director, Peter Borck; set decorator, Wayne Shepherd; sound (Dolby Digital), Jeff Wexler; supervising sound editor, Dennis Drummond; re-recording mixers, Chris Jenkins, David Giammarco; visual effects supervisor, Jamie Dixon; second unit camera, Melissa Locey; assistant director, Scott Robertson; casting, Francine Maisler.

With

Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin, Bill Camp, Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, Danielle Rose Russell, Jaeden Lieberher.

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  1. Art says:

    So it’s reprehensible when non-white characters are played by white actors, but progressive when white characters are played by non-white actors? Got it.

  2. Leah Ma says:

    I’d be the first the criticize movie for whitewashing movies. However, I have to say a person who is 1/4 Chinese is not likely to look Chinese. I have 2 granddaughters. We did DNA tests on them. One is 29% Chinese. She has blond hair and pale golden skin and doesn’t look in the slightest bit Chinese. She looks like a Viking. The other is 22% Chinese. Her eyes are a bit Chinese, face shape a bit–if you know you can see it. If you don’t, then you don’t see it. I’ve seen many people who are 1/4 Asian and so far none of them were recognizably Asian. Guys, you’ve gone too far this time. Also I have seen Eurasians, although very few, with blue, green or gray eyes. I’ve just never seen anyone 1/4 Asian who looks Asian.

  3. Horrible movie but I never watched We Bought a Zoo so who knows. Definitely time and brain cells I will not get back, the only saving grace is I bailed before it was over because I just couldn’t anymore.

  4. Erwin says:

    I just finished watchin the film… its a heartwarming one.. loved it..

  5. Janet G. says:

    Loved the movie. Found it easy to follow. Each scene foretold the next. Liked the characters. Thought Emma Stone’s character, being 1/4 Hawaiian, was supposed to be a running joke as she didn’t look Hawaiian, was proud that she was, and so had to tell everyone. Wouldn’t have worked with a Hawaiian actress, who looked Hawaiian. Thought the dance scene between Emma and Bill did have a point, or rather a couple of points. Like the Hawaiian music. Couldn’t understand why you thought movie was hard to follow. The kid explained it all. Wished you had liked it.

  6. Janet G. says:

    Loved the movie. A light romantic comedy. Nothing about it was hard to understand. Too much over thinking by professional critics.

  7. fd says:

    I LOVED this movie. It shows that you can’t trust critics’ reviews. It was a super feel good movie. I think the actors did a great job.

  8. makai says:

    Aloha is a movie that is meant for people who enjoy more than just a movie. Critics such as andrew barker do not appreciate this movie for what it is. Yes it might seem a bit confusing at times but when was different such a bad aspect. Aloha is a representation of love which in more ways than one is confusing. To truly appreciate this movie you have to look at it from more than a critics eye. If you are looking for the editing or script you find yourself lost in the movie. But if you watch it as a representation of love you will find yourself lost in its story. I suggest that Andrew Barker takes a second chance at this movie and instead of going into the theater to watch a movie go into the theater to take a trip into the story.

  9. dawn says:

    worst movie ever!! boring and confusing!

  10. JR says:

    I so disagree with it being a bad movie. It was entertaining, the plot was as believable as Star Wars, the acting was believable and I think the emotional trip we were taken on during the last scene by Danielle Rose Russel was outstanding.

    Not sure if what you say about the directing, writing and production are true or not, not why I watch a movie. I do know it was a nice escape for my wife and I.

  11. OK, I’ll play the devil’s advocate. I enjoyed the film. Didn’t have any intellectual spasms over following the script. Found the underlying “pro-generation” cloaking to be very much in sync with real life situations in century 21. The music was well written and performed IMO. And found the film to be much in the category of others doomed by critic’s wisdom. As a rule of thumb (for me at least), if critics bad-mouth it,…..be sure to see it; it’s certain to be heart-warming.

  12. Bob says:

    “Misfires from great American filmmakers…?” Crowe should be picking playlists for TIDAL.

  13. Ima Right says:

    I think all his films SUCK HOLLYWEIRD CRAP! yeah more anti American garbage from the liberal
    Hollyweird leftist! I stop going to movies a decade ago except for a few exceptions like Appaloosa
    which is an American classic western with Ed Harris nobody saw and Super 8 which was a great
    throw back to great 70’s and 80’s sci fi horror without all the blood gore sex and violence needed
    but a bit too much CGI for me. Drewp is right too many pretty faces not enough talent anymore!
    just like in music which is nothing but cookie cutter pop poop or rap or crap country braindead crap!

  14. humancorrector@outlook.com says:

    Me thinks this editor or whatever calls himself is too lily white but I guess that’s why he is a Hollywood guy. They seem to divide everyone by skin color. Anyways who cares about movies made by these type of people. Not sure who I ended up reading stupid stuff about stupid stuff written by little stupid white kids that live in some stupid place.

  15. Drewp says:

    lots of pretty faces-that’s about it. No script, story or dialogue worth mentioning. total waste of talent and $

  16. Freddie says:

    Seems like Crowe is at his best when he writes about what he knows and what is closer to his own character. It seems like after Almost Famous he completely had nothing else to say. He needs to get back to his roots and make movies that are heavily intertwined with music. He should be making great biopics about Musicians like Marvin Gaye. His true love of music needs to take the lead moving forward, and only go to Hawaii on vacation!

  17. stevenkovacs says:

    A bad Crowe is still far more interesting than a Bay firing on all pistons!

  18. Jimmy Green says:

    can’t be his “worst” film…have you seen Vanilla Sky? It was really vomit-inducing and convinced me to stay away from anything he directed—FOREVER.

    • Ima Right says:

      Bay can’t make a movie without 90% CGI effects to cover up the bad writing directing and acting.

  19. I wrote a blog where I anticipated this review and now fear “Aloha” will end up becoming the new word for “failure” in Hollywood…

  20. Mike says:

    ” though in context it plays more like a running joke, akin to the lily-white frat brother who talks endlessly about his vague Cherokee heritage.” Sounds like Elizabeth Warren to me.

    • kenjimoto says:

      Everything sounds like Elizabeth Warren to you. Should she get a restraining order?

      • Leah Ma says:

        Hey! You don’t have to look something to BE something! My youngest granddaughter looks like a Viking, blond hair and all–but she’s 29% Chinese (by way of her grandpa). We had a DNA test. God, was I glad to see those results! I was always asking my daughter if she was sure she hadn’t been switched at the hospital. Genetics work weirdly.

  21. eddie willers says:

    Crowe seems to be one of those media darlings the critics all love who can’t make a good movie to save his life.

  22. Dixon Steele says:

    Boy, there sure are some bitter wannabes with these comments…

    • flipper says:

      Don’t worry, I’m sure no one can top you. LOL!

    • Ken says:

      Here’s another one: ALMOST FAMOUS (2000) is a fabulous movie. Crowe has been coasting downhill ever since he won that screenplay Oscar for it. He is no Billy Wilder, much as he’d like to be.

  23. LOL says:

    Cameron Crowe has always been a crap filmmaker. Glad the industry is finally waking up to it.

  24. PM says:

    @Variety In a Country when the “actors” made fame and money with a Superheroe Movies,this oppinios are #crap! Remember Vanilla sky?
    Still licking the Pascal shoes!

    • flipper says:

      Variety and every other critic and publication… You wanna bet the public word-of-mouth will be different?
      For someone who makes jokes about “licking the Pascal shoes”, you seem to love putting your own foot in your own mouth. LOL!

  25. Alley says:

    His worst film? I object. How could it possibly be worse than the saccharine treacle he dished up in We Bought a Zoo?

  26. Captain Obvious says:

    So thumbs down?

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