Space. Satellites. Bradley Cooper’s voice. Glimpses of characters we know absolutely nothing about. These are the ingredients chosen to kick off Aloha, and when the first few minutes immediately bring Men, Women & Children to mind, it’s sure to be a bad sign. But while the comparison isn’t unfair – Jason Reitman and Cameron Crowe have both lost their ways after a bundle of damn good films – Aloha prefers to keep its focus on one character and those who surround him rather than trying to embody all of humanity. The problem is that not a single one of the people we’re trapped with in Hawaii is even remotely interesting.
Quoting Aloha’s IMDB synopsis, shockingly enough, might be the easiest way to describe a film that can only be considered a total mess regardless of its sole focus on one man and his life: “A celebrated military contractor returns to the site of his greatest career triumphs and re-connects with a long-ago love while unexpectedly falling for the hard-charging Air Force watchdog assigned to him.” In no time at all, all three of these characters – played by Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, and Emma Stone – are introduced in one of the most awkward manners possible. The camera spins around them, clockwise for a long while, then counter for a couple of seconds, and back and forth and back and forth, for no good reason considering they’re all standing in place and staring wistfully at each other.
But alas! The long lost love, McAdams, also has a husband! It’s here that John Krasinski offers up the most lifeless character he’s ever played for the sake of adding faux-drama to a love triangle that doesn’t have enough momentum to keep anyone wondering whether or not love will just fall into the lap of Cooper’s character Brian. There are more and more subplots shoved into this basic little narrative, and conflict arises for conflict’s sake pretty much all the time. It’s impossible not to see the romance between Brian and Manic Top Gun With A Heart Dream Girl – erm, I mean, Emma Stone’s Allison Ng – brewing from miles away while things just sort of happen. Stone’s performance in particular is one of the most bewildering aspects of Aloha, but it’s easy to attribute to the fact that Crowe doesn’t know how to write a woman who doesn’t exist solely to push a man to do things. In fairness, their interactions do occasionally result in some sweet scenes in a film where everything comes across as painfully manufactured; a rare moment of fun and sincere emotion comes in a confrontation involving a sun-hat with embedded sunglasses, among others.
Through these folks, Crowe struggles to deliver dialogue that wishes it were both emotional and relevant, resulting in some clunkers like, “Nothing’s sacred – it’s all for sale.” Because, y’know, Brian is jaded. Or something. But comes to realize the error in his capitalist ways because of Top Stone. And there’s a constant through-line in Aloha about how the privatization of space programs (”Ke$ha could send shit into space” the film stupidly whines), which never really seems to matter outside of giving Brian a reason to be in Hawaii. This all culminates with one of the strangest characters in the film: Bill Murray’s aloof and quirky millionaire who hired Brian to help him launch a satellite with hidden nuclear weaponry up into space. If it sounds too ridiculous to be featured in what is a White People in Hawaii Movie (with the rare passing mention of Hawaiian legend and basically one scene with actors I presume are Native Hawaiians), it’s because it absolutely is, and it ultimately doesn’t result in much. Not a lot of the plot that’s inserted into Aloha actually matters much, as it’s all about the “spiritual journey” that Brian undergoes from jaded man to chill dude who falls in love.
On top of stilted dialogue – how about a Stone/Cooper bit that involves the quote “Can you think of a way to make ‘I’m a fighter pilot’ sound sexy?” – Crowe’s presentation of the material lacks subtlety in a manner that leaves one unsure whether or not the humor that comes out of it is intentional. The soundtrack sneaks into the film in embarrassing ways; “Everybody Wants to Rule the World” as a character describes all the weird politics about space administration and rich people & “I Can’t Go For That” when another character realizes how shitty his situation is. It’s too on-the-nose for a film that wants to emit a laid-back atmosphere, and, boy, does it always want to do that, even when it’s too busy handing out boring shot after shot of a character’s face (or awkwardly inserted space sequences) rather than the beautiful island they’re inhabiting. And Aloha, while perfectly content to meander along as little to nothing of import happens, just can’t quite get a grasp on what’s actually interesting to watch in a film about people trying to figure out how to get back to the people they’re meant to be.
Directed by Cameron Crowe; written by Cameron Crowe; starring Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, and John Krasinski; 105 minutes.
Aloha is now playing everywhere.