'Aloha' reveals Crowe's incoherence, not brilliance
Cameron Crowe fans — and that includes most movie critics — have cut him a lot of slack over the years.
Our love for "Say Anything," "Almost Famous" and "Jerry Maguire" made us embrace the big romantic gestures and little traces of heart in "Elizabethtown," "Vanilla Sky" and "We Bought a Zoo."
But "Aloha" is a breaking point, a movie that makes you start to see the guy as just, well, full of it. Whatever it was going to be — and editing has been a Crowe problem since "Elizabethtown" — "Aloha" has been reduced to a shambling, lurching Hawaiian comedy full of big name actors making long, rushed, declamatory speeches.
And every minute or so, there's another annoying traditional Hawaiian song, or Hawaiian pop or blues or country tune. They're meant to tie the mess together, to allow the picture to coast along on musical emotions where script coherence is lacking.
And they don't. Even Elvis gets into the act. It's so grating that you find yourself waiting for Don Ho to croon "Tiny Bubbles."
The plot: Bradley Cooper plays a one-time Air Force space program officer, wounded in Afghanistan, semi-disgraced and reduced to being the "fixer" for a space tech billionaire (Bill Murray, seemingly improvising his role). Brian Gilchrest is back in Hawaii, at the little "Mayberry of a base" where he was stationed, to talk the natives into blessing a gate that's being moved so that big rockets can be moved from location to location.
Rachel McAdams is the girl he left behind, married, with kids and a comically silent Air Force pilot husband (John Krasinski).
Danny McBride is an old comrade, now a colonel more or less in charge.
And Emma Stone is the eager beaver Captain Ng, a pilot assigned to be Gilchrest's minder, his shadow as he goes to deal with Hawaii's most nativist natives.
The movie's more Hawaiian than "The Descendants," but the early culture clash promise — "Below the 'Aloha' exteriors?" "'Casablanca,' baby!" — unravels. The president of the Sovereign Nation of Hawaii (Dennis Bumpy Kanahele) just shrugs at how low his old friend has sunk.
"You're on the wrong side, bra'." At least he doesn't throw "Mahalo" in there.
Magical realism: The son of Gilchrest's ex-girlfriend is a space and Hawaiian mythology buff who insists Gilchrest is a mythical character, "The Arrival," newly returned to set the future in motion. A little magical realism helps set the expected Gilchrest/Captain Ng romance in motion. But it feels absurdly abrupt, the way we get to "Boy, am I a goner." That was to be this movie's "You had me at hello." It isn't. Not a lot of chemistry, despite Stone's enthusiastic plunge into the part.
The performances are passable, save for Murray, who goes ham, and Alec Baldwin, as a general who goes comically nuclear. He at least leaves an impression.
The film-buff Hawaiian resident Crowe has, in essence, made his "Donovan's Reef," a movie John Ford and John Wayne did to celebrate Ford's World War II service in the Pacific, and to get a studio to pay for long tropical vacations for the cast and crew.
"Aloha" has a nod to the power of music and respect for religious traditions and the once-promising frontier of space. But it's also about the versatility of that one-word title. Sadly, in this case, "Aloha" doesn't mean "Hello," or even "Welcome back, Cameron Crowe." This feels like goodbye, at least to his major studio film career.