Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Aloha: Movie Review

Disclaimer: the following review contains spoilers because no one's enjoyment of this film is at risk if I spoil anything. It's that bad.

So here's the thing: I'm sick today. My body is achy and lethargic, and the icy grip of winter isn't doing much to improve my spirits. So I decided to watch a film that I had heard wasn't very good (but that is set in Hawaii and has a lot of healthy-looking, smiling actors) to transport me to a land of warm beaches and swaying palm trees. Sure, it's not supposed to be that great. But I could use some simple-minded escapism.

Such were my expectations going into Aloha. Breezy, dumb, tropical romantic comedy. What I got was a bizarre sci-fi fantasy family drama that includes an apparition of ancient spirits, the Hawaiian version of the Force, and a climax that happens in space with the most ridiculous bit of "science" mumbo jumbo I've ever seen. What I just wrote makes it sound kinda cool, but rest assured, most of this movie is just people standing around saying awkward things to each other in a manner that in no way resembles actual human conversation. And while there are palm trees and some Hawaiian people, surprisingly few scenes are shot outside. There are more shots of satellites than there are of beaches. According to director Cameron Crowe, Aloha is meant to be "a love letter to Hawaii." Pretty sad that most of the film feels like it could have been shot in Colorado.

Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, an ex-military man who was wounded in Afghanistan and now helps private defense contractors with...stuff. It's a little unclear what his skill set or job description is supposed to be. Anyway, he returns to his old Air Force base in Hawaii to help sleazy billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray) put a satellite in orbit and get the blessing of the natives for a gate of some kind. Upon arriving, he reunites with his old flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who's married and has kids with John Krasinski. He's also assigned an Air Force handler Captain Ng (Emma Stone), a spunky, blonde, Irish-looking quarter Hawaiian who spends five minutes as a no-nonsense career woman until she morphs into a manic pixie dream girl. Much has been said elsewhere about this strange casting choice, but this is far from the film's only problem. And without Stone's unbeatable likability, I don't think this thing would have been remotely watchable anyway.

Many movies that I see struggle from not knowing what kind of film they want to be, or not knowing what the central conflict is. Aloha, by contrast, is entirely composed of random changes of tone and direction. Scenes between Cooper and Stone move from gruff and abrupt ("don't try to pick my brains; they're unpickable") to cutesy flirting ("they're like Hawaiian leprechauns," "or chipmunks" blush, giggle, giggle, blush), to shouting at each other ("she gave me the heave, okay!") in a matter of seconds.

One character is a stoic man of few words in one scene, then in the next he is completely silent and the film goes for a gag about how men communicate with looks and nods, then in the next scene he's as talkative as any other man, then he bashes the head off a lawn ornament in rage. Later they bring back the silent conversation gag with subtitles, but in a film that takes itself this seriously and seems to be going for realism the rest of the time, it feels extremely out of place.

There's an uncomfortable dance sequence between Emma Stone and Bill Murray. There's a little boy who is convinced Bradley Cooper is the fulfillment of an ancient Hawaiian prophecy called The Arrival. There's a climactic sequence where Bradley Cooper destroys a satellite by "pinging" it with all recorded sound in earth's history.

The effect of all this is that the movie feels like a self-indulgent, rich director's patchwork pet project. "I'd love to make a movie about Hawaii's spiritual displacement in 21st century America, also about how veterans cope with traumatic combat experiences affecting their family life. Also, space is cool. I'd love to make a movie about space. How about a story about the ethics of putting weapons into orbit? Also, I'd love to make a movie about moving on from old relationships, or discovering you've had a daughter for the past thirteen years, or rekindling one's passion and wonder after life's hard realities have made you cynical." I could go on. Aloha can't settle on a plot.

Writing this review, I'm struggling not to slip into the stiff, heightened language employed by the characters in this film. No one speaks or acts like they do. And these actors are all really good in other roles, so once again I think that tips the hand of the director just being out of touch with reality. Some of the cinematography is pretty darn good, but I could sense the presence of a second unit cinematographer who couldn't help overexposing outdoor scenes.

Anyway, that was all pretty harsh, and perhaps I was harder on this movie because I'm not feeling well. But should you find yourself under the weather, and you want some tropical, light-hearted escapism, I'd recommend looking elsewhere for it.

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