What happened to Cameron Crowe? That’s the kindest way to ponder his precipitous decline after back-to-back Oscar nominations for “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous.”
Since then, he has stumbled with “Vanilla Sky,” lost his balance with “Elizabethtown,” staggered with “We Bought a Zoo” and now lands face-down in the muck of bad writing with the unfocused “Aloha.”
He also directed and produced, so you have to assume the superficial, incredible narrative meets his demands. It jumps from economic commentary to an old romance to a new romance to Hawaiian nationalism to mysticism about the spirit world to an ending so blithely nonsensical a Pixar movie would reject it.
Crowe wastes Bradley Cooper, whose indifferent performance makes his work in “The Hangover” seem complex, and capable actors – Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, Danny McBride, John Krasinski – stuck in unfleshed parts. Only Emma Stone, playing an improbably young Air Force captain, shines throughout.
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Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a former military contractor now working in some undefined capacity for shady billionaire Carson Welch (Murray). Gilcrest has been sent to Honolulu to supervise the launch of Welch’s private rocket as part of a military-civilian partnership.
By coincidence, the pilot who gets him there (Krasinski) happens to be married to Gilcrest’s former sweetheart (McAdams). Gilcrest’s old boss (McBride) supervises operations at the airbase. And Allison Ng (Stone), a crack fighter pilot, has inexplicably been assigned to “watchdog” Gilcrest. Within five minutes, she’s making goo-goo eyes.
The Crowe who justly won an Oscar for the script of “Almost Famous” would not have written the line “You’ve sold your soul so many times no one’s buying any more.” Nor would he have created a scene where Cooper and Krasinski converse in “man-speak,” touching each other’s shoulders meaningfully while subtitles explain their thoughts.
Crowe flits restlessly among too many topics; Hawaiians who want to expel white haoles from their land would make a fascinating story, but it’s wedged in here as a gimmick. (I did like the T-shirt that read “Hawaiian by birth, American by force.”) And the sentimental streak Crowe has always shown no longer has irony to temper it.
We never learn enough about Gilcrest to know why a former flame carries a torch after 13 years, or why Ng – who stands for everything he seems not to believe – loves him at a first meeting. Cooper shows so little of his natural charisma that any actor could have been substituted with no loss of effect.
Maybe “Say Anything,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous” were the flukes of Crowe’s career, and the other five features represented his norm. (Most directors in Hollywood now haven’t produced even three such memorable comedy-dramas.) But when a filmmaker raises the bar that high, it’s sad to see him keep falling short.
An ex-military consultant, now working for a shady billionaire, has a crisis of conscience and also gets attracted to two women in Hawaii.
C- STARS: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski.
WRITER-DIRECTOR: Cameron Crowe
RUNNING TIME: 105 minutes.
RATING: PG-13 (some language including suggestive comments).