Aloha review

Cameron Crowe's heavily-criticised Aloha has more going for it than it's being given credit for...

There’s one universal comment you can make about any Cameron Crowe movie, so let’s get it out of the way: the soundtrack is phenomenal. It doesn’t matter if you’re talking about Almost Famous, Elizabethtown, or Jerry Maguire, the audio portion of the film is going to be killer, and it’s going to be the thing that powers the movie. That’s no different in Aloha, which is powered by the sounds of native Hawaiian singers and musicians from the very opening scenes onward. Crowe’s movies always feel like they were written to a soundtrack (and always have all the way back to Fast Times At Ridgemont High), and this movie is powered by the gentle strumming ukuleles of Polynesian culture.

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a former military man turned defense contractor. When rich billionaires like Carson Welch (Bill Murray) need their dirty work done, people like Brian are the ones that respond. After a catastrophic event in Afghanistan that left him crippled and broke, the former high-flier is now working on a gate opening ceremony in Hawaii, his former base of operations and the home of the one that got away, Tracy (Rachel McAdams) and her husband Woody (John Krasinski). However, before long, sparks fly between Brian and his Air Force babysitter, Captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone).

I have to wonder just why the Aloha plot was set in Hawaii. Did Crowe want to have a six-month paid vacation in paradise? Is Hawaii a battleground in the commercial space flight industry and I just haven’t heard all that much about it? Or is it because Cameron Crowe had a big stack of awesome Hawaiian records he wanted to write a movie around? Either way, this feeling of Hawaii fills the entire movie, making the island a character alongside every other in the film. Hawaiian mythology colours everything, from Lono to the ‘Nation of Hawaii’ movement headed by Bumpy Kanahele, and it helps add charm to an already charming film.

However, like the relaxed lifestyle promised by the islands themselves, Aloha is in no hurry to get anything done. The movie is loose and relaxed, a bit soft, but amusing enough as it schlubs along during its 105 minute running time. There are lots of beautiful shots of the jungles and beaches of Hawaii, counterbalanced by an amusing Shane Black-style Christmas setting that serves only to provide a couple of good visual jokes and an excuse for a party on the military base. It offers chuckles intermixed with the occasional belly-laugh, but mostly the film exists as a vehicle for the cast of actors to be appealing and likeable.

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And boy, it’s a likeable cast. When I first saw the trailers for the film, I wasn’t particularly entranced with the offered tease, but the cast is what made me nod my head and decide to check the film out. Bradley Cooper, the definitive lovable rogue, America’s sweetheart Emma Stone, and one of my all-time favorite rom-com actresses, Rachel McAdams. The three of them are ably supported by a game Bill Murray, a hilariously silent Jim Krasinski, a scene-stealing Alec Baldwin, and a subdued but fun Danny McBride, but it’s the three of them, and their teased love triangle that isn’t, that makes the film work on some level. There’s the slightly problematic nature of casting Emma Stone as a quarter-Chinese, quarter-Hawaiian, half-Swedish girl, but she’s Emma Stone, and if you can get her in a movie, you probably should (and I guess the Swedish half is strong enough to win out if she takes after her mother, but delving into the topic at all makes me feel uncomfortable).

The plot makes no sense, with the gate ceremony never properly being explained until closer to the middle of the movie (apparently you need people to bless the construction because there are some Hawaiian artifacts around), and the stuff about the commercial space race also kind of falls flat. None of it really means anything, aside to create some tension between Ng and Gilcrest, as well as give Bill Murray a chance to play menacing for a bit. However, there’s enough interesting tidbits about Hawaii and strong enough performances from the cast that it doesn’t really matter that it makes no sense or got cut in the editing room.

After all, this is a Cameron Crowe movie, and like most of his films, this is designed to be amusing entertainment with a syrupy core. The plot might not be tight, but there’s a definite Cameron Crowe style, like a sloppy Wes Anderson with a better play list. The film might be a mess, but it feels like a well-meaning mess, and it’s pleasant enough if you don’t think too hard or let the plot get in the way of the story. Call me a sap, but I really like Cameron Crowe.

Aloha is set for UK release on September 4th.

US Correspondent Ron Hogan has never really wanted to go to Hawaii, but that might be changing. If nothing else, this movie makes the state look like a wonderful destination for a vacation. Find more by Ron daily at Shaktronics and PopFi.

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3 out of 5