DIRECTED BY Cameron Crowe
STARS Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone
Far from the madding crowd of big-budget blockbusters comes Aloha, and will there be a more infuriating film this summer than this one? Writer-director Cameron Crowe, who once upon a time earned an Oscar for writing Almost Famous but whose last two features were the dim and dimmer team of Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo, has here crafted a picture containing more peaks and valleys than even the Swiss Alps.
“When I’m good, I’m very good, but when I’m bad, I’m better,” Mae West famously purred. Aloha mishandles that decree: When it’s good, it’s very good, but when it’s bad, it’s better left unseen.
Bradley Cooper, taking a break from Oscar ceremonies and Jennifer Lawrence movies, stars as Brian Gilcrest, a defense contractor returning to Honolulu after many years working elsewhere. There to serve as a point person between the military and billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) in their joint effort to place a satellite in space, he finds himself becoming involved with two disparate ladies: Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), the woman he abandoned decades earlier and who’s now married to a pilot (John Krasinski) involved in covert missions, and Allison Ng (Emma Stone), an Air Force captain and the person assigned to look after Brian.
Tracy’s marital woes might allow Brian an opening, but he has to weigh his feelings for her against those for Allison, who initially irks but eventually charms him.
Crowe’s movie seems hopelessly naïve in a couple of respects. The scenes focusing on Hawaiian mythology and its people’s resentment of cultural appropriation by non-natives are murky and half-baked (though there’s a nice turn by Hawaiian nationalist and Nation of Hawai’i leader Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, playing himself).
Even more dubious is the generous view of the U.S. military leadership (repped by Alec Baldwin’s barking General Dixon) as being shocked – shocked! – at the notion of space weaponization, especially in partnership with a deep-pocketed businessman (guess Eisenhower was wrong to warn us against the military-industrial complex).
Where Aloha succeeds is in its delineation of its central characters’ relationships. There’s a palpable ache in McAdams’ portrayal of a woman whose betrayal by her one true love meant she had to settle for second best, and she and Cooper establish a tender rapport.
Even more interesting is the relationship between Brian and Allison. Stone seems too young for her role, and Allison remains as much a conceit as an actual character – she’s like a manic pixie dream girl in uniform. But the actress injects the part with irresistible effervescence, expertly getting her mouth around Crowe’s occasionally purple prose while also forcing Cooper (as actor and character) to keep up.
In one amusing bit, Brian orders a double espresso, then realizing he’ll be spending the day with the perky Allison, adds, “Make it a triple.”
Viewers will similarly require a hearty caffeine hit, enabling them to get through some sleepy, sloppy storytelling in order to get to the good stuff.