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50th state of mind

Film Review: "Aloha" 

50th state of mind

Well, it has finally dawned on me that I might be in an abusive relationship with filmmaker Cameron Crowe. Things were just so good at the beginning, with "Say Anything...," "Singles," "Jerry Maguire," and "Almost Famous," all perfect in their own unique way yet thrumming with beautifully universal truths. But at the turn of the century whatever we had quickly went south, thanks to the atrocious one-two punchline of "Vanilla Sky" and "Elizabethtown." Of course I convinced myself that Crowe could change, only to be insulted after a 6-year wait with "We Bought a Zoo," a derivative and manipulative family flick. "One more chance," I vowed, hoping it could be like it was before. So it breaks my heart to think that we're through: Crowe's latest, the incoherent romantic comedy "Aloha," could actually be the worst film of his career.

Bradley Cooper leads a stacked but squandered cast as Brian Gilcrest, former military now working for a weird billionaire (Bill Murray in hammy paycheck mode) whose plans to launch a satellite demand Gilcrest's presence in Hawaii. Emma Stone's feisty USAF Captain Allison Ng is assigned to accompany Brian on his goodwill mission for reasons seemingly related only to rom-com law. Complicating matters is Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams), Gilcrest's ex-girlfriend still clearly suffering from a lack of closure despite the fact that Brian left Hawaii 13 years earlier. Now married (to an uncharacteristically hot John Krasinski), Tracy has two kids, one of them a 12-year-old daughter who -- oh, shush; I'm not ruining anything. It's literally the first thought anyone would have ... anyone except Brian, that is, because apparently that's third-act thinkin'.

To be fair, Brian has a ton on his mind because his life has fallen apart; marry that fact to his prodigal-son return to Hawaii and Stone's obnoxiously screwball riff on the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, and it seems that Crowe basically chose to remake "Elizabethtown," the film that arguably derailed Orlando Bloom's career and did zero favors for his own. "Aloha" tries to incorporate way too much plot and intrigue -- I really had no idea what was going on for the first half-hour -- in service to a standard-issue Crowe-mance, then stops just shy of completely offending our newest state with its condescending lower-48 imperialism. Hawaii's famous landscape and complicated native culture are essentially deployed here to provide a mystical backdrop for haole problems, and making Stone's character one-quarter Hawaiian does not excuse this, though it is hilarious.

What's incredibly frustrating is that the performances are all pretty good despite what the actors were given to work with. Cooper always seems a tiny bit unhinged behind his wide blue eyes, and it's not difficult to buy his extremes of behavior. Stone could stand to rely a little less on her own peepers to emote, but there's little doubt she's playing her male-fantasy archetype exactly as ignorantly written. (Note to Crowe: "I'm a fighter pilot" sounds sexy coming from anyone, dummy.) The graceful McAdams is a consistently underappreciated presence, but her character verges on the irrelevant, existing solely to help redeem our hero. Krasinski has maybe five lines -- the joke here is that he doesn't say anything -- but the singular talents of Murray, Alec Baldwin as a spitting-mad general, and especially Danny McBride as a one-man Greek chorus, are all wasted.

The mediocrity is unquestionably on the other side of the camera; for instance, how was French cinematographer Eric Gautier -- the same guy who shot Olivier Assayas' stunning "Summer Hours," incidentally -- able to make Hawaii look so uninspiring? Granted, there are a couple good scenes -- Stone and Murray dancing to Hall & Oates springs to mind -- but they feel dropped in from a better movie, one without a clichéd and convoluted script that fairly reeks of desperation.

And it's not like we weren't warned about "Aloha" as a result of that notorious Sony email hack last December: "I'm never starting a movie again when the script is ridiculous and we al (sic) know it," Sony honcho Amy Pascal reportedly wrote of the then-untitled Cameron Crowe project. Crowe is clearly out of ideas, and at the risk of blaming the victim, I guess it's my fault for expecting anything different.

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