Former Sony film chief Amy Pascal was right, after all, in her evaluation of Cameron Crowe’s now-titled “Aloha.” Although I wouldn’t go as far as calling it “ridiculous” like she did in one of the emails released after Sony’s email servers were hacked, I would agree with her assessment that “it never not ever once ever works.” And even after Crowe went back to the editing room to fine-tune it early this year, “Aloha” still doesn’t work. The film collapses under the weight of its multiple plots.
Former pilot and military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) returns to Honolulu after a long absence to convince the native Hawaiians on behalf of his employer to bless moving a gate that would allow the launch of future rocket launches His success would put him in very good stead with his boss, Carson Welch (Bill Murray). His last mission for Welch on Kabul did not end well: Brian almost lost his life and reputation. The pilot who’s flying the plane taking Brian to Honolulu turns out to be Woody (John Krasinski), the taciturn husband of his former girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams). Once you see her on the tarmac waiting for her husband, you know Brian will eventually have to take care of some unfinished business.
Brian has been assigned an assistant during his stay: the overenthusiastic and excessively cheerful Air Force pilot Allison Ng (Emma Stone) who is a quarter Hawaiian. Allison’s perkiness at first gets on Brian’s nerves…and ours. Stone’s a wonderful actress, one of the best of her generation, but here she dials up the energy a couple of notches too many. And even though you know that, eventually, both Brian and Amanda will fall for each other, there is no spark, much less chemistry, between Cooper and Stone.
Tracy has issues of her own. Not only does she still have feelings for Brian but is also dealing with her husband’s steely silences whenever he returns home from a mission. Her two children —one of which could actually be Brian’s— have taken a liking to the far more talkative and charismatic former beau. And Woody is beginning to resent Brian’s presence in the household.
Then, there is Brian’s mission which takes him deep into the heart of Hawaii’s native communities. He strikes a deal with them without realizing that Welch intends to launch more than satellites from their land, compromising his credibility not only among his native friends but with Amanda, who sympathizes with their beliefs.
Any of the above elements, taken individually, would have made an enthralling, captivating, character-driven film. But mixed together they produce a flat, unsavory mess. They never coalesce into a coherent whole. The wordy dialogue is at best clichéd, at worst dull and overtly earnest. It’s up to the actors to make the most of it. But they cannot hide the script’s flaws, no matter how hard Bradley Cooper works up his charm or McAdams looks wistfully at the camera with those Jennifer Garner-eyes or how much Alec Baldwin marches into a scene like the proverbial bull in a china shop.
Crowe overcompensates for these flaws by flooding the film’s soundtrack with a mix of pop tunes, Hawaiian folk songs and an ill-fitting score by Sigur Ros’ Jonsi and his partner Alex. It’s a desperate attempt to force his audience to feel something for these characters. But besides tasking the viewer’s patience, this excessive use of music calls far more attention to this mess, sabotaging the cast’s brave attempts to save “Aloha” from itself.
And yet, there are moments here that hint at the movie that could have been. For example, the scene where Brian explains and even translates to Terry the meaning of Woody’s every single silent gesture. Later in the film, Crowe cleverly uses subtitles to translate a similar silent, gesture-driven conversation between Brian and Woody.
It’s curious that, two days before its commercial release, “Aloha” was criticized by people and organizations who had yet to see the film for the lack of representation of Asian-Pacific islanders and for the use of the word “Aloha” in the title (even though the new title was announced back in February). These critics should have waited for the film to open. Even though “Aloha” does feature an extended scene in a native Hawaiian community, it feels shoehorned. Although essential to one of the film’s many plots, I find its presentation and the fact that the script completely forgets about this community’s existence for the rest of the movie given Brian’s actions far more problematic. Equally problematic is the way this community’s myths and beliefs are almost trivialized: they come out as hokey, twee. I think those are the real issues. But by speaking out before seeing the film, these organizations have become unwitting marketing tools to Sony, drawing attention to a mediocre film that should have gone straight to video.