I’m always fascinated by movies that somehow manage to fail spectacularly, even though they look really good on paper. For example, I look atÂ Aloha with its pitiful 19 percent Tomatometer and I ask “How is that possible?” This is a film with Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Bill Murray, Danny McBride, Alec Baldwin, Rachel McAdams, and John Krasinski, all under the direction of Cameron Crowe from a script he wrote. How could a movie fall apart so tragically when it had so much going in its favor?
Well, I got my answer pretty much immediately, when the film opens with a lengthy voice-over monologue. Yes, we get the main character’s entire life story right up front by way of a voice-over info dump, even though most of it is stuff that could have and should have been told in the movie proper. In fact, a lot of that stuff is discussed as the film unwinds, but we get it all up front anyway. Crowe even threw in some laughably awful writing to go with it (the line about cats scrambling for leftover scraps comes to mind).
The voice-over backstory monologue has become a tool for films with far more story than they know what to do with, and this movie is no exception. It’s nothing short of baffling how this story could have gotten so far out of hand.
Crowe has stated in multiple interviews that he wanted to craftÂ a love letter to Hawaii, and that intention comes through loud and clear. The film shows tremendous reverence toward the culture and mythology of Hawaii, to say nothing of the various landscapes and cityscapes to be seen in the area. Crowe even sets aside a lot of screen time to talk about a subset of Native Hawaiians clinging to their old native ways in defiance of the invading Americans, not unlike some Native Americans on the mainland.
But how to make a story about all of this? Well, the whole notion of encroaching land developers come to chase away the natives and flood paradise with pollution has already been done to death. So Crowe went in a different direction: Skyward.
Bill Murray plays Carson Welch, one of the many eccentric billionaires looking to capitalize on space travel in a time when support for NASA is dwindling. He’s come to Hawaii to build a launch site andÂ put a new satellite in the air, but the locals doubt his motives. In theory, Crowe was obviously trying to draw a connection between the space launch and various Hawaiian myths about the sky. In practice, that connection gets drowned out in all the talk about USAF involvement, peace treaties, oldÂ burial sites, Hawaiian traditions and rituals, Chinese sabotage, and so many other complications that come with an operation of this scale. Hell, I couldn’t even tell you why Welch wanted to launch this satellite from Hawaii in the first place.
Then we have our protagonist. Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) used to be in the military, until the economy turned sour in 2008 and budgets were getting cut everywhere. So he jumped ship (so to speak) and went to the private sector, where he works for Welch’s company. This brings him to Hawaii, as Brian is now in charge of coordinating discussions between the Air Force, the Native Hawaiians, and his company to make sure the satellite launch goes smoothly.
Confused yet? Brother, we haven’t even gotten started on the love triangles. Yes, that’s plural.
One love interest is Cpt. Allison Ng (Emma Stone) a motormouthed fighter pilot who’s been soaring (so to speak) through the ranks of the USAF. She volunteered to serve as Gilcrest’s Air Force liaison, so of course the two of them strike up a romance.
The other love interest is Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), an old flame who dumped Brian roughly thirteen years prior. She’s now married to John “Woody” Woodside (John Krasinski), an Air Force pilot who doesn’t really talk much. They have a good marriage and two wonderful kids (played by Jaeden Lieberher and Danielle Rose Russell), but their lack of communication is starting to take its toll.
From start to finish, it’s made abundantly clear that this movie is weighed down by far too many characters and storylines. Needless to say, the pacing is shot to hell. There are times when the movie will stop dead in its tracks (like the dance break at the halfway point, or the time Carson gives Brian a back rub for something like thirty awkward seconds), and there are times when the movie rushes things in laughably contrived ways (Brian just happens to have a cell phone intercepting doodad that he just happens to be playing with while Allison just happens to be calling her mom to talk about Brian. What are the odds?!). Hell, the climax leaves at least half a dozen crucial dangling plot threads that are all neatly resolved offscreen a couple of scenes later with no visible effort on the part of the cast.
As for the characters… shit. Carson alternates between good and evil as the plot requires him to. Danny McBride plays a colonel who’s nicknamed “Fingers” because he keeps fidgeting with his hands and fingers. Woody’s “silent” means of communication is inconsistent and it feels forced. His son is an amateur filmmaker AND he’s a fan of aeronautics AND he’s a Hawaiian mythology enthusiast. Tracy is about as interesting and three-dimensional as wet cardboard.
But of course, the most controversial case in point is Allison Ng, who happens to be a quarter-Hawaiian. For no better reason than because the plot needed a love interest with some deep spiritual tie to Old Hawaii. So could the character have been played by an actual Hawaiian actress instead of a blonde white girl? Probably. But then we would have had to lose Emma Stone, such a gifted actress that she can immediately generate chemistry with any actor in any project. Seriously, if Stone and Cooper weren’t on hand to show off how irresistiblyÂ magnetic they are, this movie would have had nothing. Except maybe Alec Baldwin spitting fire and brimstone, but he’s only in the film for maybe two minutes.
(Side note: The thought occurs to me that if AllisonÂ had been cast with some up-and-coming Hawaiian actress and Stone had been cast in McAdams’ role, that might have solved a few problems.)
It’s not that I don’t mind the racial issues at play here, it’s just that I’m more deeply offended by the bad writing. Absolutely none of these characters look or act like actual human beings. They’re not even heightened in a comedic or entertaining way, it’s just contrived and forced. It’s hard to give two shits about these characters when everything that they say and do is motivated by the need to plow through too much plot in too little screen time.
I can’t begin to understand why this movie is only 100 minutes long. I mean, I get the appeal in making a light and breezy romantic comedy, but no simple rom-com would have so much plot to try and get through. I’m just saying, if you’ve got a story that takes two hours to tell, then make a two-hour movie. I don’t know if an additional twenty minutes would have been enough to salvage things, but it couldn’t have made the end result much worse.
Aloha is perhaps best summed up by its own opening credits montage, in which idyllic film strips of Hawaii are juxtaposed with stock footage of missiles and fighter planes. The characters and dialogue are all hopelessly contrived, crafted entirely to serve a plot sprawling in so many directions that it’s impossible to tell what — if anything — is being accomplished. The actors are all great to watch, but there’s absolutely no reason to care about any of the characters or what they’re doing.
The film is a plane crash. Not recommended.