Friday, September 4, 2015

Movie Review: Aloha

Directed by: Cameron Crowe.
Written by: Cameron Crowe.
Starring: Bradley Cooper (Brian Gilcrest), Emma Stone (Allison Ng), Rachel McAdams (Tracy Woodside), Bill Murray (Carson Welch), John Krasinski  (John 'Woody' Woodside), Danny McBride (Colonel 'Fingers' Lacy), Alec Baldwin (General Dixon), Bill Camp (Bob Largent), Jaeden Lieberher (Mitchell), Danielle Rose Russell (Grace), Michael Chernus (Roy), Edi Gathegi (Lt. Colonel Curtis), Dennis Bumpy Kanahele (Dennis 'Bumpy' Kanahele).

Cameron Crowe is an obviously talented writer and director. You can see that in his best films like Say Anything (1989), Jerry Maguire (1996) and Almost Famous (2000) – and even Vanilla Sky (2001) – a film I like far more than most, and showed Crowe had the ability to do something far different from his usual movies. But since then, Crowe has been fumbling around, making progressively worse and worse movies. Elizabethtown (2005), was a complete and utter mess of a movie – but it was at least an entertaining mess of a movie. We Bought a Zoo (2011), was an odd choice for Crowe, who must have wanted to make a family friendly movie, and mainly succeeded, although the film plays it too safe, and is entirely forgettable. Now comes Aloha, which like Elizabethtown, is a complete mess, but unlike Elizabethtown isn’t an entertaining mess. Watching Aloha, I was amazed by just how bad it is – how completely lacking in structure the film is, which never seems to figure out what kind of movie it wants to be, or what the point of any of it is. It has a wonderful cast, who are completely wasted. If Aloha were an ambitious failure, it could forgive it – sometimes even great directors’ reach exceeds their grasp. But that’s not the case here – the movie is just plain bad.

The film stars Bradley Cooper as Brian Gilchrest, as the classic Crowe archetype, the cynical idealist (Crowe is, as always, trying to follow in the footsteps of his favorite director – Billy Wilder). Brian is former military, who then went to the private sector working for billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) – before Murray dropped him as well. Now, he has another shot with Welch. He has to return to Hawaii, to meet with some locals to try and get permission to do something involving launching a satellite. He has been teamed up with a military liaison, Allison Ng (Emma Stone), and the two share a flirtatious relationship from the start. He is also reconnecting with his ex, Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who he hasn’t seen in 13 years, and her family – her largely silent husband Woody (John Krasinski), and their two children – 12 year old Grace, and 6 year old Mitchell).

If this seems to you like too much to cram into one movie, you’d be correct. There are other characters swarming around the movie, and other subplots, and the film is so jammed with them that it turns out that none of the subplots in the film work at all. The whole movie is too scattershot, jumping from scene to scene with no rhyme or reason, introducing seemingly major developments only to abandon them for large stretches of the movie, and then coming back to them at inopportune times. The movie doesn’t make much logical sense, and makes even less emotional sense. I didn’t believe that pretty much any character in the movie would behave the way they are forced to as I watched the film.

The cast is game, and they really do try to make all this work. You’d be hard pressed to find a more charming trip of actors to lead a comedy like this than Cooper, Stone and McAdams, and all of them come out of the movie with their reputations intact. Yes, it was stupid to make Stone a quarter Asian, but it’s far from the stupidest thing the movie does. Everyone else in the cast is trying just as hard as that trio is – and nothing onscreen would make me hesitate for a second seeing this same cast in a different movie.

But a good cast can only do so much to help a movie this ineptly written and directed. Essentially all they do is make a terrible movie watchable. Crowe still has talent – there are a few isolated moments in Aloha that do work, that are genuinely funny. But they are surrounded by a bunch of nonsense and incoherence. This is by far the worst movie Crowe has ever made – and I’m really starting to believe that he doesn’t have another great movie in him.

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