Filmmaker Cameron Crowe can’t catch a break with Aloha, a Hawaii-set romcom that is nowhere near as toxic as its advance buzz. The gifted writer-director of Say Anything . . ., Singles, Jerry Maguire and Almost Famous (his Oscar-winning script detailed his job as a teen reporter for this magazine) has been gobsmacked by leaked Sony e-mails that pointed to intense studio disgruntlement with the film. Then the Media Action Network for Asian-Americans accused Aloha of presenting a “whitewashed” version of Hawaii that excluded “the very people who live there.” Hmm. Actually, Aloha blasts the military-industrial complex, repped in the film by Alec Baldwin and Bill Murray, for disenfranchising the very people who live there by exploiting the 50th state’s land and air rights for profit and worse.
It gives me no pleasure to report that Aloha is still a mess, a handful of stories struggling for a unifying tone. Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a combat-scarred defense contractor back in Honolulu to reconnect with the space program. He’d like to reconnect with former love Tracy (Rachel McAdams), but she’s now a mom and married to pilot Woody (John Krasinski). Then there’s Allison Ng (Emma Stone), Brian’s Air Force handler, who irritates him with her series of “warmest alohas” until he sees her true self, a staunch defender of Hawaiians against the encroachments of Brian’s employer, Carson Welch (Murray), a fat cat eager to militarize Hawaiian air space by launching a weapons satellite. Yikes.
It’s a top-flight cast, but Cooper offers too little to Stone’s too much. Only McAdams finds a touching balance. As for Murray, he’s a joy cutting loose to Hall and Oates, but when the plot takes him to a dark place, the effect feels forced.
Crowe is tracing a blueprint set by his mentor Billy Wilder, whose 1948 romance A Foreign Affair took a derisive look at the black market in postwar Berlin. But Crowe doesn’t share Wilder’s cynicism in the face of the American instinct to despoil. He wants things to work out, to let the good guys win. That’s wish fulfillment. Aloha runs from the fires it ignites. That’s a shame.