Aloha is the newest film by writer-director Cameron Crowe, he of such beloved works as Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous. Once one of the most cherished voices in Hollywood, Crowe’s career has turned into an emblem of another time. Where he was once perceived as having a knack for smart, snappy works, he’s kind of seen as your dad’s new rock album. Sure, I bet that new Paul McCartney/Tom Petty/Bruce Springsteen album is okay, but that art has stagnated.
His latest finds the filmmaker rolling out tropes he has played with before. It stars a handsome white guy, excellent at his job and lonely for love. For Aloha, the handsome white guy is Bradley Cooper as Brian Gilcrest, a military contractor returning to the Hawaiian island of Oahu as part of a sneaky and top-secret mission. The finer details of it are complicated, tied to satellites, rich entrepreneurs (here played by Bill Murray), Hawaiian natives, the Air Force and, for good measure, Alec Baldwin. Brian is at a crossroads in his life, still recovering from a nearly fatal situation in Kabul. Considered a wildcard by his private-sector heads and their military-ties, Brian is given young servicewoman Allison Ng (Emma Stone) to keep an eye on him and escort him from here to there.
Here and there includes reconnecting with an ex-girlfriend (Rachel McAdams), her strong, silent husband Woody (John Krasinski) and a pair of moppets. Old feelings hang in there, all while a bond between Brian and Allison percolates.
Crowe’s Aloha can nicely be called cluttered. More accurately, one could label it messy. The narrative manages to be underdeveloped and clunky, with plotlines that either need several scenes more or to be lifted entirely. The entire thread about Brian’s connection to McAdams’ character Tracy stumbles. The actors have a natural connection, so the moments don’t fall on their face. They do fail to provide a well-rounded interest, due in no small part to Tracy and Woody’s marriage coming off as a convention to the story rather than anything genuine. This mix of the goofy, outlandish Hollywood-ness clashes poorly with the drama Crowe seeks to stoke. The problem is at its worst revolving a not-so-secret secret that is meant to give the feels in the last act, which plays as a flailing for heartstrings.
There is good here. Stone, as is nearly always the case, is wonderful here. Even as her Allison is presented as a bit too chipper and cute at the onset, the layers bloom well and Crowe’s ability to provide silky smooth romantic dialogue hasn’t entirely disappeared. All of the film’s finest beats arrive when Brian’s cynicism rubs against Allison’s optimism, bringing out new elements to each persona. The tension these two generate lift even the weakest chunks of Aloha.
Well, almost all of them. The final lap of the picture borders on embarrassing, as obvious detours are barreled down and any ounce of realism is jettisoned into space like the satellites and stars the movie is occasionally interested in babbling about. The romantic comedy goodwill that allowed ignoring the lackluster or strange deviations, like Stone’s character being of mixed ethnicity, crumbles in poorly executed melodrama and cutesy, maudlin syrup.
Aloha is likely Crowe’s worst movie to date. Still, like his other bottom-feeder Elizabethtown, even bad Crowe manages to have it bright gems.