Reviews

With His Latest Film, Cameron Crowe says 'Aloha' to His Past and to Success

This is like watching the parts of a movie wait for a reason to exist. We don't care if the players find passion or just sit around, eating poi.


Aloha

Director: Cameron Crowe
Cast: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin, Danny McBride
US Release Date: 2015-05-29

As a critic, it's easy to become confused. Films are made as entertainment, at least initially, and few strive to go beyond those borders into something akin to art. But when a director strives for something more meaningful, when he or she reaches beyond the basics to attempt some sort of aesthetic flourish, they are usually destined for a noble failure. It takes a real rarity to pull of this moviemaking magic act, and even with an Oscar on his desk, Cameron Crowe is no such prestidigitator. Instead, his latest film, Aloha, argues for a man who used to make classics (Say Anything, Almost Famous, Jerry Maguire) and now just makes crap.

This is the man's fourth underwhelming film in a row. After getting his Academy accolade, he forced his fans to sit through an unnecessary remake (Vanilla Sky), a truly lame RomCom (Elizabethtown), and some based on a true story pap (We Bought a Zoo). In between, the commercial and more importantly, critical caché he had collected slowly dissipated into a pool of disappointment. There were high hopes for this unusual look at Hawaii and its connection to the US military. Unfortunately, the whole Sony email hacking scandal, built around the goofy gross-out comedy The Interview, offered up predictions of doom and gloom (the studio hated this film).

The Interview, at least, has a point -- more of a point than Aloha does. This is one confused film. It offers up few clear motives, far too many pseudo-poignant conversations, and subplots and ancillary characters that literally go nowhere. Danny McBride is present, as is Alec Baldwin, and both certified scene stealers do nothing but pad the running time. Concerns that Crowe would "whitewash" the islands ala George Clooney and The Descendents were unfounded, but this is not the eye-opener a native population would want. Perhaps the worst element of the movie are its leads. Make no mistake -- Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone are fine. It's their on-screen chemistry that's virtually nonexistent.

As for the story? Well, it has something to do with Cooper's character being a former flying ace who suffered a... something... in Afghanistan. When a former employer (Bill Murray) seeks his help in negotiating a land thing with some Hawaiian locals, he heads back to his former training base. There, his Brian Gilcrest meets up with "handler", Captain Allison Ng (Stone) whose connection with the indigenous population goes beyond the basics. By accident, our hero runs into a former girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), now married to another pilot (John Krasinski). Still holding a torch, Brian can't see that Allison has fallen for him, hard.

There's also something about a satellite system, some nukes, and the involvement of the actual head of the Hawai'i "state", Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele. Still, none of these things make Aloha any more interesting or compelling. Instead, we sit, dumbfounded, wondering what Crowe was thinking when he decided to write this particular script. His characters are cloudy and convoluted and his plotting is practically incoherent. We're never sure of the stakes, can't tell who is on what side, and really don't care if the players find passion or just sit around, eating poi. It's like watching the parts of a movie wait for a reason to exist.

It's even worse on a travelogue level. Hawaii is a beautiful place. Aloha is an average looking film. There's no attempt made to turn the tropics into something magical or meaningful and the scenes are framed to foil maximum landscape enjoyment. Crowe does try for some island mysticism and he does push the boundaries of what's authentic and what's artifice, but it doesn't work. Everything about Aloha feels forced and unreal. One imagines few officers in the military acting like the men here. If so, then we have more to worry about than the enemy abroad.

Perhaps they should have simply retitled this film Joe and the Inactive Volcano and be done with it. John Patrick Shanley's fascinating fairytale didn't get everything right, but when it did, it was amazing. Here, Crowe grounds everything in a sense of truth before taking off into obvious whimsy. Toss that on top of his already overwrought storyline and you've a movie drowning in its own inert designs. There is never clear line from Point "A" to Point "B". Instead, the characters converse, convinced that the talking cure is the best way to handle the half-baked issues involved.

The most disturbing aspect of Aloha, however, is Crowe's seeming fall from grace. Even the suits at Sony recognized that this was a formerly effective filmmaker lost in a wilderness of his own design. Maybe you can't fault his remake or his revision, but with this and Elizabethtown, he continues to prove that his past is determined to remain there.

Almost Famous was released 15 years ago, and he's still struggling to come close to that film's backstage believability and brilliance. One of the best things about a Crowe film was its sense of realism. You could identify with his characters and their concerns. With Aloha, that's all gone. In its place is a sense of confusion -- and more Crowe crap.

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