ALOHA is a glorious, unkempt disaster of a film. Individual elements are ambitious, even praiseworthy, but the narrative arc of this comedy-drama about Hawaiian legends, the privatization of space, and a hunky guy with commitment issues falls apart almost as soon as the whirl-a-gig ride begins. Credit where it’s due, though, writer-director Cameron Crowe is impeccable when it comes to casting: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Alec Baldwin, John Krasinski, Danny McBride, and the inimitable Bill Murray. Each is a shining beacon of star power in all its varying forms. Each can fill up the screen with a vivid character make the emotional investment to make us care. And one day, they will all be in another film that doesn’t make us feel cheating for that caring.
As is suitable for a film whose title is the Hawaiian word for, among other things, both hello and goodbye, it is a tale of beginnings and endings as former Air Force hotshot Brian Gilchrist (Cooper) returns to Hawaii as the flunky of an eccentric (what else?) billionaire (Bill Murray, who else?) with designs on space. He’s greeted at the airport by his Air Force liaison, gung-ho and ebullient Capt. Allison Ng (Stone), and the girl he left behind 13 years ago, Tracy Woodside (Rachel McAdams). As the two vie for his attention, Crowe spins the camera around the three actors, telegraphing in no uncertain terms that this will be a complicated plot point. That Tracy has a daughter right around 13, as well as a son a little younger and a husband (Krasinski) often gone on secret Air Force missions, is just the beginning of those complications.
Brian is there to talk the hereditary king of Hawaii (actually hereditary king of Hawaii Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele) into authorizing a blessing ritual for the Air Force, a flimsy excuse even in filmland. Allison is there to keep tabs for the military on what is going on. And Tracey is there so that her cute son can babble on about the Hawaiian legend of Lomo and Pele and all the revenge sex they are going to have in a volcano.
If we focus on the characters alone, there are good times to be had here. Stone has a way of zipping her flight-suit pocket with extreme prejudice that sums up Allison to perfection. Baldwin, as an Air Force general, chomps on ice with an aggression usually reserved for a steel-cage death-match. Krasinski, as the strong silent type is called upon to have an entire conversation with Cooper sans spoken dialogue, and there is no doubt about what he is saying without saying a word. Murray, well, he’s Murray, and if there is a reason to buy a ticket to see this film, it’s to see him tear up a dance floor with Stone.
Once we get to the writing, though, ah, woe is me and all of you. There are too many cheap tricks of exposition (do we really have to be brought up to speed on Brian’s past with a conversation between Allison and her mother that Brian hears through a thin motel wall?). There are too many sudden shifts of plot development. Allison goes from irritating Brian with her perky professionalism and blatant hope of him furthering her career, to being the object of his affection without much of a transition. That Cooper and Stone have only intermittent chemistry, a fact that is noteworthy for its counterintuitiveness, does not help the situation. And just why is the private operations control for Murray’s Hawaiian project hidden in the backroom of a fish market?
Adding to the problem is too much skittering around the themes that Crowe wants to include. He wants to tackle issues of who owns the sky now that NASA has been defunded, and the magic of believing in the unseen as a tonic for cynicism, plus he wants to address the Hawaiian separatist movement, the conundrum of money buying its way into places it shouldn’t go, and a 1967 treating that ostensibly keeps space weapons-free. And those are just the top five. There may have been a way to do all of that in a romantic comedy with serious overtones, but it isn’t in ALOHA.
What we are left with are a few great moments in a morass of a flick. Perhaps somewhere there is a longer, director’s cut, that fixes the problems, and, if so, I will be delighted to watch it.