‘Aloha’ is a beautiful disaster

Against my better judgment, I ignored the terrible reviews and went to see Cameron Crowe’s latest film, “Aloha,” this weekend. I used to live in Hawai’i and wanted to see some of the scenery again. I was also intrigued that the film would show more of the military side of living on O’ahu— it’s set almost entirely on Hickam Air Force Base, where I used to travel to play youth sports as a kid. And, plus, with an all-star cast like Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Danny McBride, John Krasinski and Alec Baldwin, what could go wrong?

As it turns out, a lot. A whole lot.

But first, let me begin with what “Aloha” does right. First, the music.

It’s a Cameron Crowe film, which means the music is going to be superb. And it was. There’s a song playing in the background almost constantly, and the score by Jon Thor Birgisson neatly fills in the gaps.

The cast, despite the script they’re working from, are always fun to watch, especially Baldwin, cranking up his angry Jack Donaghy to 11.

The cinematography is fantastic, but it’s hard to mess that up if Hawai’i is your backdrop.

And for all the hate the film has been getting in the press for its racial politics (more on that in a bit), it’s also the first mainstream Hollywood film to highlight the struggle between Native Hawaiians and the American military. A brief scene with real-life Nation of Hawaii leader Dennis “Bumpy” Pu‘uhonua Kanahele (playing himself) sheds light on the struggle for validation many Haawaiians feel. Wearing a shirt reading “Hawaiian by birth, American by force,” the only thing wrong with Kanahele’s scene is that it’s short-lived.

Now on to the racial politics. The scene mentioned above also functions as a way to remind the audience, again and again, that Emma Stone’s Captian Ng is a quarter Hawaiian and a quarter Chinese. She reiterates this fact throughout the movie, tossing out words like mana (spiritual energy) and menehune (spirits looking like small Hawaiians) to prove that she is indigenous. Because getting an actual native Hawaiian to play her part would have been too hard, apparently.

But this is a movie directed by Cameron “Please don’t forget I made Jerry Maguire” Crowe, so the Hawaiian backdrop only serves as a device to move the cluttered script along.

In a nutshell, defense contractor Brian Gilcrest (Cooper) is being brought back to Hickam to serve as a liaison between the Air force and Kanahele to use sacred Hawaiian land for a new pedestrian gate at Hickam’s new rocket installation grounds. The rocket is being launched by billionaire Carson Welch (Murray), whom Gilcrest apparently double-crossed in Kabul a few years back. The move reunites Gilcrest with his old buddy “Fingers” Lacy (McBride), who is now an Air Force colonel. (Seriously. Think about that for a minute. McBride as an Air Force colonel.) It also reunites him with ex-girlfriend Tracy (McAdams), who is now married to Gilcrest’s old Air Force buddy Woody (Krasinski). Tracy and Woody have two kids, one of which may be Gilcrest’s, and the other is a carbon-copy clone of Ray from Jerry Maguire.

Does Gilcrest find love? Does he reconnect with his old mana on the way to redemption? Does he hack into a satellite while thwarting some Chinese hackers? Does he do things that make no sense, peppering his speech with phrases like “I go hard, I go deep, and sometimes I break things?” All this and more, and it’s  a shame all the cast’s talent had to go to waste in something like this, where the plot never finds its voice and can’t seem to make up its mind. The plot, much like the film, is a muddled disaster.

It sure is beautiful to watch, though.

Photo taken from here.

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