A day after watching Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, I’m still not sure what to think of it. In a lot of ways, I respect Crowe for making a full-on Cameron Crowe movie (we’re to the point where any sort of directorial fingerprint in a major motion picture is worth some credit). But even if this is fully his movie, we’re still a good decade-and-a-half past the two times Crowe was interesting, with Almost Famous (2000) and Vanilla Sky (2001). Aloha is messy, uneven and — occasionally — mildly embarrassing, the work of a director unfortunately past his prime.
The sheer Crowe-ness of it all is much of the problem, since his modus operandi has either tuckered itself out or simply fallen down a few notches in creativity. The pop music is there but to no real effect and is used mostly toward the beginning of the film before petering out (or simply being so uninspired that it’s unmemorable). The usual Crowe monologues are there, and while the dialogue is occasionally clever, there are some awkward moments (some Bradley Cooper exclamation about living his life “hard and fast” is both clunky and poorly delivered). Plus, everyone — even the guy (a horribly miscast John Krasinski as a butch Air Force pilot) whose whole schtick is that he doesn’t talk — gets a monologue. Even the basic plot — a morally bankrupt man finds love and a chance to resurrect his broken soul or whatever — is Crowe 101.
That last part, in theory at least, is fine, except Crowe’s gotten a little too high concept and a little too clever and a little too unrelatable. The film seems to want to do for failing military contractors what Crowe’s Jerry Maguire (1996) did for failing sports agents — with Cooper playing Brian, a former pilot who’s nearly ruined his life with a string of bad decisions but has a chance to get back on track by working for eccentric billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray). The job sends Brian to Hawaii — his favorite place, we’re told — but also places him in the path of a quirky Air Force pilot (Emma Stone) and a long-lost girlfriend (Rachel McAdams). Other quirky characters come and go, like Danny McBride, who has a strange tic involving his hands, or a precocious kid (Jaeden Lieberher, who at least has the fact that he’s not Jonathan Lipnicki going for him) with a video camera and a whole lot of facts about Hawaiian myths. All of this conveniently dovetails into Brian finally getting his act together.
It all feels a little dated (even the hand-held camera work feels passe) and like some lost indie movie from a decade ago. Crowe attempts to mitigate this with lots of pertinent talk about privatized militarization and the need for a moral compass, but none of it comes across as very deep, just extremely researched and, usually, totally unapproachable. Even with this, Crowe will occasionally come up with a good line or a touching moment, and it reminds you of how smart a writer and filmmaker he can be. Unfortunately, there simply aren’t enough of these instances. Rated PG-13 for some language, including suggestive comments.