Saturday, May 30, 2015


Please tell me not every major American director will feel the need to decamp to Hawaii for a navel-gazing loll in the hammock.

After Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” (in which we were treated to the sight of George Clooney perusing a wall of photographs for ten minutes) and now Cameron Crowe’s poo-poo platter “Aloha” – trailing the same DOA buzz as “Serena” earlier this year – I’ll probably pukka the next time I hear “Aloha Oe” or see some haole sporting a strand of shells.

A strange and uneasy mix of genres, “Aloha” stars Bradley Cooper as Brian Gilcrest, a poorly defined character once on active military duty and now freelancing for kajillionaire space explorer Carson Welch (Bill Murray). Brian’s in Honolulu to obtain the Hawaiian king’s blessing on a “pedestrian gate” (your guess is as good as mine) that must be necessary (though it doesn’t seem to be) to launch Welch’s massive rocket with its mysterious payload into the stratosphere. This part of the storyline is both deeply unconvincing and flat out boring.

The heart of the movie (and, great or awful, Crowe’s movies always have heart) lies in the love triangle between Brian; his ex Tracy (Rachel McAdams), now married to Woody, the airman who flew Brian in (John Krasinski), but not all the way over Brian and holding onto a big secret; and Allison Ng (Emma Stone), the keen-as-mustard pilot (and self-proclaimed “one-quarter Hawaiian”) assigned to babysit Brian while he secures the king’s blessing. Stone almost manages to make Ng’s avalanche of dialogue sound snappy, but can’t succeed in making her into a real person rather than a movie character.

From a writer-director who has produced some of the most truthful movies of his generation, the falsity that streaks through “Aloha” disappoints. Each supporting character gets one identifying quirk. The head of the base, played by Danny McBride, moves his fingers around nonstop. He’s nicknamed “Fingers.” Tracy tells Brian that Woody “doesn’t talk” – except for all the times when he does. His supposed silence does yield the movie’s one memorable sequence, an extended hug with Brian in which their thoughts appear onscreen like subtitles.

For Cooper, who finally proved he could act (in a big way) in last year’s “American Sniper,” “Aloha” represents a step backward. He has little to do here but fill out t-shirts impressively and flash that megawatt smile. Stone, who’s working as much as anyone in Hollywood right now, will survive intact, and even Rachel McAdams, never a personal favorite, appeals. The attractive Krasinski, whom I quite liked in “Promised Land” a few years back, does not benefit from being muted for long stretches. Alec Baldwin scores a couple laughs as McBride’s superior. A dance between Murray and Stone to Hall & Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That” is meant to be a show-stopper, but after the duo’s “You Make My Dreams” highlighted “500 Days of Summer” and Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig hilariously lip-synced “Nothing’s Gonna Stop Us Now” in “The Skeleton Twins,” the scene fizzles and fades.

If Cameron Crowe never made another picture, we’d still owe him an endless debt of gratitude. His debut feature, “say anything…,” remains the richest and best teen movie of all time. “Almost Famous” is still my favorite movie from any year that starts with a 2. I could quote dozens of lines from either on command, and “Jerry Maguire” introduced “Show me the money!” and “You had me at hello” into the American lexicon. But we’ve been waiting 15 years now for Crowe to find the lived-in honesty and casual greatness of those films. “Aloha” is much better than his worst, the walk-out-worthy “Elizabethtown.” It’s at about the same level as “Singles” or “Vanilla Sky,” and when you’ve set the bar as high as Crowe has, that’s not good enough.

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