PLOT: Romantic entanglements complicate an already complex plan for a privatized rocket launch in Honolulu, Hawaii.
REVIEW: Before the press screening of ALOHA, writer/director Cameron Crowe came out to introduce the film. In the brief introduction he hinted at some of the unexpected controversy surrounding the film (Sony leaks, non-ethnic casting), and called it a love letter to Hawaii. And with only one screening for press, and an embargo that would lift less than a day before release, I was expecting something less than inspired. The new film has many issues. It is a bit contrived, messy and maybe features too many characters. Yet underneath it all, one of the things I appreciate about Crowe and his work is there. There is charm, and an undeniably sweet nature that managed to bring a smile to my face at times, even when the story felt far too chaotic for its own good.
Bradley Cooper (fresh off the success of AMERICAN SNIPER) portrays Brian Gilcrest, a military contractor who is hired to overlook a privately funded space launch in Honolulu, Hawaii. While there he begins a strange relationship with Alison Ng (Emma Stone), an Air Force Captain hired to watch over him during his stay. To make this already convoluted story even more complicated, he reconnects with a former flame, Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), who has now moved on with a military husband (John Kasinski) and their kids. Bill Murray plays Carson Welch, the billionaire who hires Gilcrest to make arrangements for the launch, and steals a scene or two. And Alec Baldwin is General Dixon, a man who knows of Gilcrest’s military past and does not approve of the direction his career has taken.
ALOHA is all over the place when it comes to story. It all revolves around the launch, and some questionable means to make it happen. And of course there is a slight twist about what Welch may be attempting to do but I won’t get into that. Not surprisingly too many of the characters’ seem to be shortchanged. As much as McAdams is a driving force for Cooper’s Gilcrest, her complicated marriage, as well as her relationship with Cooper is glossed over. Yet I appreciated some of the humor that comes from Krasinski and his “silent conversations” with his old pal Gilcrest. He and Cooper have a couple of laugh out loud moments that are pure Crowe and they present some much needed energy to that storyline.
The real heart comes from Stone and Cooper. While her character is actually quite annoying for the first few minutes, once we get to know the real Alison Ng, she becomes much more engaging. Their forced time together helps keep the story moving as well as creating an anchor for the complications at hand. Yet as the two become more involved, their relationship builds to a surprisingly satisfying conclusion. This is the rare feature that seems to get better as the film progresses. By the third act I was mostly invested in the complex moral issues both faced. Crowe has the unique ability to take on very serious subjects yet he still manages to keep everything a little grounded, and slightly quirky.
Many of Crowe’s features still hold up incredibly well. From SAY ANYTHING to ALMOST FAMOUS, and even PEARL JAM TWENTY. He is a unique filmmaker with the talent to create real situations that help bring his words to life. And he also has a knack for a seriously good soundtrack. And while there are moments that shine in ALOHA, as a whole it is one of his weaker outings. The cast for the most part is good, even though Danny McBride and his constantly moving fingers are a bit distracting - his character is appropriately named Colonel ‘Fingers’ Lacy. And by the end, credit has to be given to Cooper, McAdams, Krasinski, and aside from the beginning, Stone, who offers up nice work. As a love letter to Hawaii, ALOHA is a sweet - and scenic - yet not always satisfying sentiment. However, fans of Crowe may still entertain in this Hawaiian holiday.