Not unlike its own jerk-charmer of a main character, Aloha manages to skate breezily on by, wearing its obvious appeal planted firmly on its chest. Writer and Director Cameron Crowe has managed to make a toothless romantic dramedy mostly enjoyable by assembling a charming cast of bona fide Hollywood megastars and manipulating the audience’s feelings with a non-stop radio friendly soundtrack. It’s a bit of a shame too, as he’s put together a hell of a team of players that flirt on occasion with compelling story beats and actual conflict, in between moist-eyed stares at one another and weighty dialogue. Even though the movie never really aspires to the heavier themes it seems so desperate to chime in on, it still ends up being a fairly entertaining trip to the Hawaiian Islands. Thanks entirely to the heavy lifting of its absurdly talented cast.
Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a former serviceman, who left the Air Force under less-than-ideal circumstances, and now works as a private sector hatchet man for a venture capitalist with eyes set on privatizing the sky. Assigned the success of an ambitious space project, Brian is tasked with returning to his old haunt in Hawaii to secure the cooperation of the local native population and a lucrative partnership with the US Air Force. Soon (as in literally walking off the plane) Brian is confronted by unfinished business from his former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams) and accosted by his adorable-but-overbearing military liaison Allison (Emma Stone). Before long, Brian is torn in a dozen different directions by influences both past and present, all while trying to maintain a mercenary facade that’s at odds with the handsome good-guy he really is. With the help of an ex who is so down-to-earth, cool, and forgiving it borders on fantasy, Brian soon realizes that the cost of doing the job he was brought on for will have a personal price he can’t afford again.
Unfortunately, the most convincing part of Aloha ends up being the least thematically interesting. The characters themselves are engaging and charming, as expected from a group of academy who’s whos, and when they’re around each other it’s not such a bad time. The most disappointing part of the whole experience is that a film called Aloha is only interested in paying the bare minimum of attention to its titular setting. In fact, outside of giving the director an endless supply of beautiful compositions and scenery, the core story has as little to do with the culture and history of Hawaii as possible. The movie attempts to create a compelling narrative by pitting Hawaii’s native culture at odds with private sector modernization and the American military presence, but it’s handled with zero subtlety and finesse. A subplot regarding the native King of Hawaii begs the audience to empathize with the plight of a native populace paying the cost of modern progress, but instead really only ends up serving as the plot device for Brian and Allison’s predictable falling out in act two. Add in cursory-at-best exposition of native religion and legends, and you have a representation that feels condescending instead of compelling. And if that’s not enough for you, on the opposite end of the spectrum is a sequence where Bill Murray’s sinister billionaire attempts to sneak a high tech military satellite into space. It’s so out of left field that you’ll think you dozed off and woke up in a different movie. The highlight of which is a last-second attempt to save the day that feels made up the day they walked to set.
Having said all that though, as a character piece it’s really not so bad. Crowe shows his usual flair for creating implausible situations that showcase passionate human beings functioning unimpeded in their element. And once the craziness of those big scenes winds down, you’re rewarded with the best parts of the movie. In particular is a scene-stealing explosion from famous angry guy Alec Baldwin, who has a lot of fun yelling at Bradley Cooper and channeling exactly what the audience is thinking. Calling him out on his implausibly good-looking three-day beard, for example. Cooper and McAdams’ scenes are also notably poignant. The realist in you might wonder what she could ever see in such a callous guy, but they’re acted out so convincingly you can’t help but want to see their story play out. Emma Stone brings a lot to her character as well, embracing her role as the straight man/love interest to Cooper’s aimless misanthrope. She continuously conveys a convincing, manic type of passion when it comes to anything remotely important to her character.
In the end, Aloha is a film that’s content to trade a more engaging and ambitious story, for a generic and somewhat rote character piece that’s carried by the strength of its cast. Those looking for a little more than the usual guy meets gal, guy and gal fall in love over the course of a week story may not find much to like here. But if you’re the kind of movie fan who likes the sound of a movie about Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone and Bill Murray hanging out in Hawaii and getting to know each other, you’ll find some legitimate enjoyment.