‘Aloha’: What the Critics Are Saying

29 May 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

‘Aloha’ Review: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone Anchor Cameron Crowe’s Harmless Miss.

How rough are things for Cameron Crowe’s Aloha? Thumbnail: Cameron Crowe’s newest romantic comedy doesn’t quite work, but it is entertaining enough thanks to clever dialogue and old-school movie star charisma.

After being warned by his ex-girlfriend that her husband, Woody, is a man of few words, military contractor Brian Gilcrest and Air Force pilot Woody Woodside engage in a deft and funny bout of silent communication. Not only did he live out my childhood dream of being a teenage rock journalist and touring with Led Zeppelin but he also wrote “Fast Times at Ridgemont High” and gave us the sublime “Almost Famous.” So when it comes to his new film, “Aloha,” it gives me no pleasure to report, in a paraphrase of one of the master’s greatest lines, it didn’t have me at hello. Paced like a record on the wrong speed, or a Nancy Meyers movie recut by an over-caffeinated Jean-Luc Godard, the film bears all the telltale signs of a poorly executed salvage operation disfigured in the editing bay. The negative reviews are par for the Aloha course, however, following leaked emails from Sony about the project’s troubles and protests about its title and depiction of native Hawaiians.

But as far as misfires from great American filmmakers go, it’s a fascinating one, less a simple failed Cameron Crowe film than a total deconstruction. Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a disgraced defense military contractor hired by his old boss, billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), to supervise the launch of a satellite in Hawaii. The film was among those dinged by Sony executives as revealed during the massive hack last year, and it shows clear signs of nipping, tucking, and post-production tinkering. Given its rather extraordinary bad pre-release buzz and what is sure to be poor word of mouth from any viewer expecting a new “Jerry Maguire” (or even a new “Elizabethtown”), the film’s commercial prospects look murky.

Ahead, the nine most scathing reviews of Crowe’s latest “love letter.” 1. “It says a lot that Aloha is a bigger disaster than this weekend’s actual disaster flick, San Andreas, merited only by a cast that admirably acquits themselves of the movie around them, and the fact that we can assume the well-meaning Crowe meant well.” – Jen Yamato, The Daily Beast 2. “Tonally and thematically, Aloha feels like a willfully perverse return to Crowe’s 2005 Elizabethtown, the director’s biggest flop, but clearly a film he loves so much he inexplicably felt the need to make it twice, once in the American South and once even further south in Honolulu.” – Nathan Rabin, The Globe and Mail 3. “The movie’s just a jumble, a total mess, and that plays out in both macro and micro ways. He’s a brilliant but troubled guy — he’s described as a “sad city coyote” — with a history who is immediately confronted with his romantic past in the form of his former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams). The main story this week has been would-be controversy over accusations that the film, which is set in Hawaii and stars Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, and Rachel McAdams, is an example of cultural whitewashing. But when faced with a work this fatally misguided, one can only hope it will serve an emetic purpose, a cleansing of the system before Crowe can get his mojo working again.

On a macro level none of the individual scenes come together to form a coherent movie, while on the micro level some scenes are incoherent within themselves.” – Devin Faraci, Birth.Movies.Death 4. “With the new film, Crowe’s unique touch – the generosity with which he views his characters, the human race, and the world in general – seems almost completely lost. It’s a false charge based primarily on the trailer, since the film features a major plot involving indigenous Hawaiians and fears related to colonization. Romance blooms as international intrigue brews with Gilcrest at the center of each scenario. “Aloha” is part rom-com, part industrial thriller and part redemption tale.

The director attempts to mix the various components together under the soft sheen of Hawaiian mythology and spiritualism but the film still feels disjointed as though it’s two different stories mashed into one. The Cameron Crowe feature cost $39 million to produce, is precisely the kind of adult-skewing character study that we all complain that Hollywood doesn’t make anymore.

Crowe’s dialogue occasionally sparkles — “You’ve sold your soul so many times nobody’s buying anymore,” is a great line — but it’s not enough to connect us to the situation or the characters. Select Alison Ng, it’s the scenes in which little is said that often exert the most charm in “Aloha.” When he lands in Honolulu, Gilcrest is a tarnished Air Force vet who’s gone on to work in the private sector. It is not insane to predict/hope that older audiences will simply see the trailer and decide to check out that new comedy by the guy who made Jerry Maguire starring that guy from American Sniper. But the unfortunate, inescapable truth is, the movie really is that terrible.” – Chris Nashawaty, EW 8. “The result is a movie that’s well-meaning but nearly unwatchable.

She’s proudly one-quarter Hawaiian, a plot point that’s sure to raise red flags, though in context it plays more like a running joke, akin to the lily-white frat brother who talks endlessly about his vague Cherokee heritage. Stay home and watch a better Crowe movie instead, and ponder what went wrong.” – Moira Macdonald, Seattle Times 9. “This thing is bad in the ways that only an ambitious, personal project can be. Almost Famous is one of my all-time favorite movies, but I won’t pretend it was a real hit back in 2000 (it was a classic “one for me” project after Tom Cruise’s Jerry Maguire earned $273m worldwide in 1996), nor will I pretend that the Matt Damon/Scarlett Johansson family comedy We Bought A Zoo wasn’t a leggy hit in late 2011/early 2012 just because I didn’t care much for it. On that note, while it’s perfectly germane to ask why an actual Hawaiian actress couldn’t have tackled the part, “Aloha” is hardly culturally insensitive.

It stands to reason that a massive success like American Sniper would earn Bradley Cooper a few more “will show up because he is in it” kind of fans. Real-life Nation of Hawaii leader Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele plays himself in a substantial cameo role — wearing a T-shirt that reads “Hawaiian by Birth, American by Force” — precisely to lament mainlander imperialism, and island myths factor heavily, if typically obliquely, into the story. As Ng and Gilcrest criss-cross the islands, doing whatever it is that they’re supposed to be doing, they hatch a hesitant romance and may or may not have a supernatural experience, while Gilcrest’s sporadic discussions with Tracy hint at the questionable parentage of her preteen daughter (Danielle Rose Russell). The overarching themes here appear to be Gilcrest’s redemption — though what he’s being redeemed for is never satisfactorily articulated – and the preservation of Hawaii’s sacred aura, as underscored by Tracy’s precocious, videocamera-toting son (Jaeden Lieberher), who proves to be an encyclopedic fount of knowledge about the fertility god Lono.

Most, but certainly not all, of these divergent narrative strands come together by the end, yet the filmmaking is so haphazard that it’s hard to care about any of it. If it seemed obvious whom Gilcrest would wind up with when Ng picked up him on the tarmac at the start of “Aloha,” it becomes less so as the story moves them closer but also creates hurdles, romantic and professional. Sometimes “Aloha” almost feels like an expression of frustration, a frantic feature-length attempt to bundle all his narrative tics and stray emotional bric-a-brac into a rocket and blast it off into space. Ng is almost fleshed out by Stone’s energetic performance, though the character’s essential contradictions — for one, she’s terrified of the idea of weaponized satellites polluting the peaceful purity of the Hawaiian sky, even though she’s a fighter pilot — keep her feeling like an undercooked writerly device.

And an unkempt Murray appears to have been given free rein to simply goof off through his scenes, making the pic’s already befuddling military intrigue subplot even more surreal. When he requests Tears for Fears’ “Everybody Wants to Rule the World,” at a holiday party it’s not entirely clear whether he’s going for irony or not. And Stone and Murray stage a dance-off to Hall and Oates that’s appealing for reasons which should be self-explanatory, even if it might as well have been shot at the wrap party, for all the sense it makes to the narrative.

The opening credits begin with a montage of newsreel-style images of Hawaii around the time it became the 49th state and the military’s space-program efforts. Production design, camerawork and art direction are all topnotch, and the film showcases a bevy of beautiful island landscapes with nary a swimming pool nor a beach resort in sight. When Gilcrest and Ng travel to a rural commune to get a Hawaiian blessing for a checkpoint, their visit has the feel of a trek to a reservation to meet with a tribal council. Hawaiian folk music supplements Crowe’s predictable classic rock selections on the soundtrack well enough, and a score from Sigur Ros offshoot Jonsi and Alex is appropriately transporting.

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