** 1/2 out of ****
Cameron Crowe, director of acclaimed films like Almost Famous and Say Anything, has been savaged by critics since his 2005 flop Elizabethtown (a mess and his weakest film, but it still has its moments). If you visited online movie sites, the knives seemed to be out for his new movie Aloha months before it was released. And with its release, most critics followed through with some pretty harsh pans. But a lot of it’s overreacting. Yes, Aloha is a flawed film, but it has its charms and it’s more enjoyable than other May releases such as Hot Pursuit and Tomorrowland.
Bradley Cooper plays a disgraced contractor who was seriously injured in Afghanistan. The nature of his work is a little murky, but it’s clear his new assignment in Hawaii is his last chance. He’s helping the military work with a private billionaire (Bill Murray) to put a new communications satellite in space. On the island, he flirts with his new attache (Emma Stone) and reconnects with an old girlfriend (Rachel McAdams).
Aloha has its problems. The first act has way too much expository dialogue. Watching the first 15-20 minutes, it’s easy to believe that all of the worst rumors about the film are true. But once the movie sets everything up, it’s enjoyable watching actors as charming as Stone, McAdams, and Cooper play off each other. One of Crowe’s great strengths as a writer/director is he seems to genuinely like people. The characters, even the ones who turn out to be villains, are treated compassionately. In an era where many celebrated filmmakers favor vague pretentiousness and/or ironic detachment, Crowe’s heart-on-his-sleeve earnestness is a refreshing change of pace.
But despite its charms, Aloha never totally comes together. Crowe’s films tend to run approximately 120 minutes, but Aloha is 105. It should have been longer. There are a few relationships that feel as if they needed at least one other scene. The emails released in the Sony hack indicated that executives weren’t fond of the film. Cuts may have been mandated, but I would’ve liked to see a 2-hour cut of the movie.
Aloha may not stand alongside his classics, but if you’re a Crowe fan, you shouldn’t be scared by the bad buzz.