Aloha Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams. Directed by Cameron Crowe. Rated PG-13. Opens Friday.
When hackers leaked thousands of emails from Sony Pictures Entertainment last year, one of the stories that emerged was studio executives’ frustration with Cameron Crowe’s Aloha, a romantic dramedy shot in Hawaii in 2013 and originally set for an awards-season release at the end of 2014. It would be refreshing to say that Sony’s concerns about the muddled script and the poor reactions from test audiences were unfounded, but Aloha arrives in theaters a complete mess, even more of a disappointment than Crowe’s notorious 2005 flop Elizabethtown.
At least Elizabethtown had the courage of its misguided convictions, but Aloha plays like half the movie has been somehow left behind, which isn’t entirely unlikely given the amount of tinkering Crowe reportedly did with it over the last two years. What’s left is a half-baked romance full of dead-end subplots and startling leaps in character development, with a third-act turn into a nearly incomprehensible conspiracy storyline.
Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a former Air Force hotshot now working as a military contractor for sinister billionaire industrialist Carson Welch (Bill Murray, spectacularly miscast). After nearly losing his mind and his life in Afghanistan, Brian is in Hawaii for what seems like a cakewalk of an assignment, to procure a blessing from local natives for a new pedestrian gate at a military base. But things get complicated between Brian and his Air Force liaison, Capt. Allison Ng (Emma Stone), especially since Brian’s return to Hawaii also means seeing his ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams), now married with kids, for the first time in 13 years.
The romance between Brian and Allison is fairly straightforward, and Stone is fantastic as the earnest, vulnerable rising military star, who has all the accolades that Brian has lost (she’s also the only actor who manages to wrangle Crowe’s overwritten dialogue). But it still lunges forward awkwardly, and it’s stopped dead multiple times by the scenes between Brian and Tracy, who could be removed from the movie entirely and not make much of a difference (the subplot about Tracy’s troubles with her husband, played by John Krasinski, is even more useless).
By the time the movie gets to Welch’s top-secret satellite launch, it’s completely lost its way. Crowe is out of his element trying to craft anything resembling suspense, and his efforts at incorporating local Hawaiian culture are similarly off-base (Allison, played by blue-eyed redhead Stone, constantly reminds people that she’s a quarter Hawaiian). There’s a charming movie somewhere in Aloha, but it’s buried deep under this wreck of conflicting tones and storylines.