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ALOHA Review – *½

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I'm not sure what this poster is saying, other than there are white people and we're in Hawaii. But this sure as shit isn't The Descendants. (Source)

I’m not sure what this poster is saying, other than there are white people and we’re in Hawaii. But this sure as shit isn’t The Descendants. (Source)

I knew from the trailer that Aloha would be a pretty pathetic excuse for a film–any film that highlights one of its worst jokes (the hysterically dated Flava Flav reference) and then drops that joke from the final film doesn’t have its head in the right place, and neither did Cameron Crowe, whose writing and direction are objectively bad and subjectively sad–the man who won an Oscar for writing Almost Famous and coined two of the most recognizable film quotes in Jerry Maguire has come to this, a film which makes no sense and offers less entertainment.

Spoilers.

The plot for Aloha is a total fucking mess, but I’ll recap it as best I can. Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) was a hotshot military contractor who, under circumstances which are never explained, suffered serious injuries during a botched operation in Afghanistan, and is now working for Carson Welch (Bill Murray), a billionaire tech tycoon who is doing something in Hawaii. He arrives in Hawaii and immediately sees Tracy (Rachel McAdams), his ex-girlfriend, who is now married to Woody (John Krasinski), an Air Force pilot and old acquaintance of Brian’s.

Brian is there to negotiate with Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele, a Hawaiian separatist (playing himself), to give his blessing to a pedestrian gate. He’s given a USAF liaison, Capt. Allison Ng (Emma Stone), and after they complete the negotiations–promising Kanahele that no weapons will fly over Hawaii–they begin to grow close. But he’s drawn back into Tracy’s orbit, and he soon learns that Welch will be putting weapons in a satellite which is scheduled to launch from the same facility where the aforementioned gate is…I think.

So Brian’s problems compound, he falls out with Allison, he does the right thing, he ends up happily with Allison, Welch is arrested, and it turns out he’s the father of Tracy’s 13-year-old daughter, but Woody is okay with it.

Nothing beats fun, but this film is anything but fun. (Source)

Nothing beats fun, but this film is anything but fun. (Source)

Wikipedia has a more detailed synopsis if you so desire, but recapping the entire ungainly shape of the plot is less fun that just delving into the film’s worst moments–and there’s ample competition. Of course, when the fundamental premise for a film is so vague and generic–and for me, completely unenticing–a happy outcome is gravely unlikely. But amidst a sea of bland mediocrity and what I suspect is heavy re-editing, a few high points of awfulness shine through.

Early in the film, there’s a long take on the airport tarmac as Brian is reintroduced to Tracy, is introduced to Allison, and is seemingly pulled in five different directions at once. It’s one of the most confused, chaotic, and off-putting moments I’ve ever seen in a film by a major director. Even if the idea was to evoke a sense of social chaos, it’s so clumsily staged and so confusing that it alienates us from these characters we know nothing of.

This early scene is also cluttered with bad exposition; Brian’s old friend “Fingers” Lacy (Danny McBride) quips “the old ex-girlfriend” at the sight of Tracy. Why Tracy is there in the first place is strange–yes, Woody was flying the plane, but as he’s a pilot this shouldn’t be a big deal–but the hamfisted reference to Tracy’s status, and why, 13 years after their break-up, Fingers would still care, just shows how lazy and generic Crowe’s writing is.

Then, after the meeting with Kanahele, there’s a truly bizarre scene where Brian and Allison see what seem to be ghosts (or people performing as ghosts) crossing a road, and they duck behind the dashboard of their vehicle to avoid being seen. If the idea was to introduce a note of mysticism or magical realism, it merely confuses the viewer, since the film is otherwise straightforward. The scene does establish Allison’s deep respect for Hawaiian culture (she’s ¼ Hawaiian), but before this she’s portrayed as very gung-ho and no-nonsense–the kind of person who would have no patience for the supernatural.

That hat has sunglasses built into the brim. It's ugly as shit. It's this movie in hat form. Also, she's miscast and the role is terrible. (Source)

That hat has sunglasses built into the brim. It’s ugly as shit. It’s this movie in hat form. Also, she’s miscast and the role is terrible. (Source)

The character of Allison Ng is really the most outstanding failure of Aloha. The casting of Stone as a ¼-Hawaiian, ¼-Chinese character has been heavily criticized, and Crowe’s rationale

As far back as 2007, Captain Allison Ng was written to be a super-proud ¼ Hawaiian who was frustrated that, by all outward appearances, she looked nothing like one.  A half-Chinese father was meant to show the surprising mix of cultures often prevalent in Hawaii.  Extremely proud of her unlikely heritage, she feels personally compelled to over-explain every chance she gets. The character was based on a real-life, red-headed local who did just that.

seems to refer to what was in his head more than anything that showed up on the screen. Or, as I suspect, to material that didn’t make the final cut. Because in the finished film, there’s really no hint of resentment on her part–she does over-explain, but it seems to be more because of her boundless energy than any insecurity about her racial status. To her credit, Stone provides the requisite level of energy, and her innate likability shines through sufficiently to make hers, if not the best, the most memorable performance in the film. But the character is a mess.

Her relationship to Brian is baffling; not only because of the age gap (Stone and Cooper are 13 years apart; between this, Birdman, and the two Woody Allen films she’s made, Stone is paired with men an average of 24.7 years older than she), but because she sees “greatness” in him after knowing him for, at most, a day. She’s both a comically peppy model officer and a starry-eyed idealist, and if this contrast had at all been explored, the character might have become effective. As it is, she’s what the film–and Brian–need her to be, rather than a three-dimensional human being.

While it’s a not a singular scene, per se, the not-really-a-love triangle between Brian, Tracy, and Woody is pretty damn bad. Again, it’s a little hard to believe, after 13 years apart, they would have much to say to each other, though perhaps that’s more because the writing is so weak it’s hard to believe the characters care about each other; we certainly don’t. Woody is non-communicative to the point that it seems to be putting a strain on his marriage to Tracy; why Krasinski was stuck in a role that mostly evokes the most tedious element of his work in The Office–his blank, vaguely concerned stare whenever Jim and Pam’s grand love affair seemed in jeopardy of ending–is beyond me, since his low-key snark is far more enjoyable, and could have worked just as well for the character.

That's about the nicest face you could make in response to this film. (Source)

That’s about the nicest face you could make in response to this film. (Source)

McAdams at least tries a little bit–and has a little more to work with. She’s really quite a good actress, but aside from her work in To the Wonder (which nearly got her a Supporting Actress nomination from me), I’ve yet to see her in a role that really explores her potential (maybe Spotlight will oblige?).

But of course, there’s the whole Brian-is-really-her-father plot to deal with, which, aside from being incredibly hackneyed, leads to yet another awful scene–one of the last in the film, in fact. After Welch is arrested and Brian is back in good with the USAF, he goes to see Tracy’s daughter (and his daughter) at her hula dancing class. He watches her dancing for quite a long time, they make eye contact, she after a while has the revelation, rushes outside to hug him, then goes back into the class and resumes dancing with tears in her eyes. It’s a scene which, if we gave any kind of a shit about the characters, might be touching, but as it is, it’s a 40-year-old man watching a 13-year-old girl dancing for minutes on end. I think you get my point.

For the peak of absurdity, however, we must rewind a ways to Brian’s “heroic” moment. He oversees the satellite launch (which ties into a point I’ll make in a bit), then, I think because he sees how upset Allison is, calls up a friend at a radio installation and tells him to play the entire Internet through the satellite, making it explode.

Because that sounds ridiculous, let me see how Wikipedia describes it:

Brian has Roy send the biggest amount of sound into space, which when released, will compromise the rocket. Brian and Ng hold hands as the rocket is ruined and explodes.

Okay, that’s vaguely more coherent but still incredibly stupid. I would reference the screenplay directly, but I can’t find it readily, and am not about to risk infecting my laptop to clarify the opaque narrative of Aloha. Suffice it to say, the scene makes no sense, seems technically impossible, and is not satisfying, because it’s ridiculous and we don’t care and we don’t care about these characters or this plot and HOW THE FUCK IS ANY OF THIS POSSIBLE?!

Again, I strongly suspect Aloha was heavily reworked, probably in the editing room but possibly before it even got in front of a camera. There’s a cluttered, hazy feel to the story that suggests Crowe was trying to find the core of just what his story was about, but never did. This uncertainty reaches all the way to the title, which was once Deep Tiki (a shame they didn’t go with that; it evokes tiki culture, which perfectly matches this film’s touristy idealization of Hawaii), and was Untitled Cameron Crowe Project for quite sometime before they settled on Aloha, which itself met with criticism, given the significance of the word in Hawaiian culture.

The only ethnic Hawaiian with a noteworthy role in this Hawaiian-set film. (Source)

The only ethnic Hawaiian with a noteworthy role in this Hawaiian-set film. (Source)

The tone is all over the place, with elements of comedy, drama, romance, and political thriller bandied about, and none of it coheres. What exactly Brian is is never clear; is he a contractor? A satellite technician? A military-industrial negotiator? An arms trader? He seems to be all of these, but he never seems to be himself. Again, if Crowe was at all on top of his game, Brian’s lack of identity could have been resonant–the film could have dealt with him truly defining himself, rather than doing vague shady things for the military-industrial complex. It could have been inspiring…or at least not boring and confusing.

Cooper’s performance seems to be driven by a desire not to embarrass himself, and he doesn’t; he coasts on his charm and doesn’t waste much energy on Brian’s crises. Whether he knew this film would be a piece of shit or not isn’t clear, but he plays it safe, ensuring as much as possible that the Razzies will pass him by and seize upon Crowe.

Crowe deserves it. This might be a worse script than Chappie, but that film had some redeeming factors. This is the kind of film that lives and dies by two things: its script and the chemistry of its performers. The latter is not much in evidence, and the former is simply disastrous. Crowe writes about Hawaii like he learned about from an Idiot’s Guide (the casting of Bumpy Kanahele is the only thing he did unquestionably right), and he writes about human nature like he learned from watching old movies while half-asleep. He makes cultural references that evoke desperation rather than relevance; the Flava Flav joke didn’t make the final cut, but there’s a random reference to Ke$ha, because…she exists, I suppose.

I guess I should mention the rest of the cast while I still can. Bill Murray’s deadpan manner allows him to walk off with the handful of scenes he’s in; he gets to be an out-and-out bad guy, which isn’t a bad fit for his style. He manages to be more likable than just about anyone else in the film. Alec Baldwin yells a lot, but to no great avail; Danny McBride is present. Technically, the film is solid enough–aside from the horrible editing–but there’s nothing really worth mentioning.

At the start of Crowe’s response to the film’s criticisms, there’s a brief, sad passage:

From the very beginning of its appearance in the Sony Hack, “Aloha” has felt like a misunderstood movie. One that people felt they knew a lot about, but in fact they knew very little.

The defensive tone of these few words, and the rather bitter twist at the end of them, seem quite ironic in light of the fact that no one seems to have understood the film less than the man who made it.

Score: 29/100

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One thought on “ALOHA Review – *½

  1. Pingback: PAN Review – *½ | If you want the gravy...

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