REVIEW: ‘Aloha,’ nothing to Crowe about

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For Digital First Media

In “Aloha,” a military contractor, Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), returns to Hickam Air Force Base in Honolulu. He had once been a whiz kid in the U.S. Air Force as part of the space program there.

In the interim, Brian had gone over to the dark side. He left the military to work in Afghanistan with Carson Welch (Bill Murray), a billionaire arms dealer with a dubious sense of ethics. Brian had lost his own moral compass. He became involved in some shady business, taking kickbacks to provide illegal weapons to Mujahideen.

His once stellar reputation now tainted, Brian is back to help launch a private communications satellite system from the Hawaiian military base. Guess who owns the soon to be launched satellite. Why it’s none other than Carson Welch.

According to Welch, his involvement with the satellite is entirely altruistic. He contends that no weapons will be aboard it. He simply wants to enable schoolchildren in third world nations to be able to access the internet or some other farfetched hokum.

While in Hawaii, Brian tries to sort out some of the unresolved issues between him and his former girlfriend, Tracy (Rachel McAdams). She is now married to another man, Woody Woodside (John Krasinski). He’s in the military and often away on secret missions. Together, they are raising two children, Grace (Danielle Rose Russell) and Mitchell (Jaeden Lieberher).

Does Tracy still harbor feelings for Brian or has she moved on emotionally? How about Brian —  where is he at?

Brian is assigned a military handler, Allison Ng (Emma Stone). She is a gung ho fighter pilot with significant career objectives.  Will Allison be able to resist becoming romantically entangled with the man, whom she has been assigned to watchdog?

In “Aloha,” Brian has been tasked with a culturally sensitive assignment. He must meet with tribal leader, Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele (playing himself), and obtain his blessing for the launch. To do so, Brian must convince Kanahele that the satellite system will have no weapons aboard it to blight the Hawaiian sky.

In real life, Kanahele is a nationalist leader, who serves as the titular King of the Pu‘uhonua agricultural settlement. He injects some welcome gravitas into a film that otherwise lacks it. However, as soon as Brian concludes his meeting with Kanahele, he acknowledges his overt disdain for the latter’s concerns.

Although “Aloha” is set in Hawaii, with the exception of Kanahele, it relegates the indigenous population to the background. In addition, the film displays a dismissive attitude toward traditional Hawaiian notions of animism. As a consequence, “Aloha” has been assailed by various Asian-American advocacy groups.

The film makes a point out of the fact that Allison’s mother is Swedish and her father is half Hawaiian and half Chinese. Allison even does the arithmetic for us, bragging that she is a quarter Hawaiian. Does making Stone’s character a platinum blonde somehow supposed to make her ethnic identity more plausible? Does the token formulation of Stone’s character as Eurasian somehow supposed to change the film’s fundamental racial whitewashing?

Cameron Crowe, the screenwriter/ director of “Aloha” made his bones at the tender age of 16. He went on tour for three weeks with the Allman Brothers Band. The ambitious journalist interviewed not only every member of the band, but even tour roadies.

Crowe’s debut as a screenwriter grew out of an adaptation of the book he wrote, “Fast Times at Ridgemont High.” It was based on the year that Crowe spent undercover, posing as a student in a California high school.  After that, he wrote and directed “Say Anything” and “Singles,” a documentary about the Seattle grunge music scene. Crowe followed up with his biggest hit, “Jerry Maguire.” The success of that Tom Cruise vehicle enabled Crowe to get his pet project, “Almost Famous,” green lit. That largely autobiographical film was based on Crowe’s years as a rock journalist. After this string of popular and critically praised films, Crowe made the disastrous “Elizabethtown” in 2005. After a hiatus of six years, he made the far from edgy “We Bought a Zoo” in 2011.

With “Aloha,” Crowe has turned out another film that is far below the standard that he had established during the early portion of his career. “Aloha” is subverted by clunky plot mechanics, inane dialogue, poor continuity, and relationship dynamics that make no sense.

Unfortunately, “Aloha” is nothing to Crowe about.

** PG-13 (for some language including suggestive comments) 105 minutes. Sony Pictures Entertainment

Nathan Lerner sees over 200 feature films a year. He welcomes feedback at lernerprose@gmail.com.

A screen capture from a trailer to the film "Aloha" at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3mf_ewjc7s

A screen capture from a trailer to the film “Aloha” at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O3mf_ewjc7s


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