Cameron Crowe has turned into George Lucas, and not in a good way. After an acclaimed, beloved trilogy as a writer-director (“Say Anything,” “Almost Famous,”
“Aloha” doesn’t reverse that trend, offering a script so contrived and artificial that not even the combined sparkle of Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and the state of Hawaii itself can save it.
At its best, Crowe’s work can call to mind that of his friend and mentor Billy Wilder; the situations might be amplified, and his characters might speak in screenwriter-ese, but his films nonetheless reveal something about the human condition. From “Vanilla Sky” onward, unfortunately, Crowe seems to have been stricken with some form of tone-deafness that curdles quirky into shrill.
Some exceedingly abrupt and thrown-together exposition introduces us to Brian (Cooper), who was once a starry-eyed dreamer with visions of the cosmos, but now that NASA has basically gone broke, the Air Force vet finds himself in the employ of billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), one of the private-sector entrepreneurs who now dominate the space race. (Both “Aloha” and “Tomorrowland,” with differing degrees of awkwardness, seem to be aiming for the demographic of people who wanted to be astronauts when they grew up.)
Welch’s upcoming rocket launch sends Brian back to the 50th state, where he’s commissioned to smooth things over with a local Hawaiian sovereigntist (Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, as himself) to build a pedestrian gate on the Air Force base on the site of a former burial ground. Brian’s got his own ghosts of the past to deal with, notably a reunion with former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who’s now married to Woody (John Krasinski), an Air Force pilot who’s non-talkative in the extreme.
Making up for Woody’s silence is Captain Allison Ng (Stone), a chatterbox who’s been assigned as Brian’s liaison. She’s the walking manifestation of all of Brian’s crushed hopes and dreams, and she also represents Brian’s last chance at love. (We know this because Crowe has Allison yell, “I was your last chance!” at Brian after he has momentarily disappointed her.)
Crowe interweaves these two-dimensional characters with all the Hawaiian mythology, pop songs, and Christmas decorations that he can muster, but with the exception of one scene where Alec Baldwin yells — and who doesn’t like to watch Alec Baldwin yelling? — there are virtually no moments in “Aloha” where characters interact in a believable way or that the plot doesn’t come off like a series of contrivances. The deepest understanding we get of any of these characters is that none of them would say the things that Crowe makes come out of their mouths.
Krasinski, dodging the bullet of the awful dialogue here, winds up giving the best performance. Poor Cooper doesn’t fare nearly so well with his one silent scene, a third-act staring contest (during a hula class, no less) that Crowe clearly thinks is going to be a signature moment that instead feels tacked-on and phony.
McAdams and especially Stone get saddled with some truly terrible sparkly-eyed moments of flirtation; their characters are competent career women (Allison’s a fighter pilot, Tracy runs the base’s forensics lab), but “Aloha” essentially reduces both of them to whether or not they’re going to hook up with dreamy Brian. (His blue eyes are mentioned several times by both ladies.)
In an attempt to silence the chatter about “Aloha” that surfaced in the leaked Sony e-mails, Crowe himself showed up to introduce the Los Angeles press screening, assuring us that the film has always been designed as a love letter to Hawaii. He may have set out to serve audiences a luau spread featuring a crispy roast pig, but the results taste more like Spam.