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What happened to Cameron Crowe's Aloha?

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There hasn't been a lot of marketing hype around Cameron Crowe's latest picture, Aloha. Commercials show us beloved actors Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone engaged in the kind of combative banter that inevitably leads to love set against an idyllic Hawaiian backdrop. Emma Stone's got on military fatigues and a no-nonsense hairstyle. And that's all you know! the executives seemed to say.

Could it be the lack of marketing means Sony doesn't believe in the picture? The answer I'm afraid is a sad yes, as we learned from executive emails leaked in last year's Sony hack. Aloha has a plot that is hard to summarize in a short commercial, but it's also a mostly bad, uneven film with hard-to-know characters and a baffling premise.

I know! I'm as disappointed as you are. Crowe used to give us some of the smartest and best feel-good movies out there. (My favorites include Jerry Maguire, Almost Famous and Say Anything.) Emma Stone has us at hello and Bradley Cooper's blue eyes have the allure of tranquil oceans. So what went wrong?

Cooper plays former war hero Brian Gilcrest, who was left for dead on the battlefield but is now back in Hawaii doing some private sector work involving a bridge or a satellite or something. (It's unclear for the first hour what this mission is all about and only moderately coherent by the film's end.) An old girlfriend from Brian's past, Tracy, happens to be waiting around on the airstrip upon his return. The girlfriend is played by Rachel McAdams, who I reluctantly admit nearly always elevates any material she's in, and this film is no exception. (Look, I don't know why I don't like her. My best guess is that she's too pretty and she made all those Nicholas Sparks' movies.) They haven't seen each other in 13 years and in his absence she's had two perfect children by a strong but silent fighter pilot (John Krasinski).

“Did someone say ‘luau’?”
  • “Did someone say ‘luau’?”

Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone) shows up with a baffling combination of uptight formality and utter whimsy. Stone and Cooper's romance should be carrying this thing, but their relationship arc is so muddled and weird that you can barely tell when they start and stop dating. The subplot between McAdams and Krasinski plays much better, and that shouldn't be the case.

Aloha struggles with a story that wants to say something about the problematic intersection between private contracting and military operations, and fails. A subplot involving the Hawaiian culture and its people gets one or two good scenes (the real-life king of Hawaii is in the movie!) but to what end? And those brief nods to culture are undercut by the film's overwhelming whiteness—a criticism that's getting the movie a lot of negative attention. Allison's repeated insistence that she's "one-quarter Hawaiian" does little to redeem this basic truth.

It's just so disappointing, particularly when compared to films like Jerry Maguire, where Crowe succeeds so valiantly in setting the central romance amid the vibrant and very real world of sports business. Performances by actors like Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray and Danny McBride are frustratingly brief, which makes me think this movie once had life and then somewhere along the line was swiftly killed through bad editing. Did you know aloha means both hello and goodbye? I think you get where I'm going with this. No need to finish the joke.

Aloha continues at the Carmike 12.

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