The charm can’t compensate for the shallowness in the romantic comedy “Aloha,” the new release from writer, director and fountain of positive spirit Cameron Crowe. Best known for perceptive, character-driven and quirkily original movies such as “Singles,” “Almost Famous” and “Jerry Maguire,” Crowe delivers on the level of his more recent, contrived “We Bought a Zoo” this time.
As with most Crowe fare, “Aloha” contains more sparkle than edge and features a protagonist who overcomes a setback or challenge, thanks to love. Music figures in, too.
Bradley Cooper plays Brian Gilcrest, a military contractor who, following a botched Afghanistan assignment, has a chance to resuscitate his career with a mission in Hawaii.
Upon arriving, he meets Alison Ng (Emma Stone), the high-energy young fighter pilot acting as his handler. He also encounters former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who is now married to untalkative pilot Woody (John Krasinski) and has two kids.
Gilcrest finds himself attracted to both women. Tracy represents the past; Allison offers a chance for future happiness.
Gilcrest also faces a moral dilemma, involving a military satellite. He must decide whether to honor the interests of Hawaiian nationalist leader Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele (playing himself) or to comply with the demands of villainous billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray, in Zen-sleazeball mode).
Romantic chemistry happens all over the place in this movie, whose buoyancy results largely from the charisma of the cast. Cooper, Stone and McAdams supply the magnetism, while Krasinski’s near-silent but immensely aware Woody nearly steals the film.
Crowe’s funniest bits involve the unspoken dialogue between Woody and Gilcrest. Communicating merely with eye contact and body language, the men understand each other perfectly.
But unfortunately, the film’s appeal is purely superficial. As the story progresses, predictability and sappiness increase, and everything adds up to a formulaic Hollywood romcom elevated by good actors and a few inspired scenes created by Crowe.
While it is more than just love and luaus, the movie fails to take effective advantage of its setting. (It pales next to Alexander Payne’s “The Descendants” in this regard.) And unless you include Stone’s Allison Ng, who is one-quarter Hawaiian (a heritage she mentions repeatedly as if needing to convince us it’s true), Crowe’s only significant Hawaiian character is Kanahele.
Rather than let this real-life leader speak deeply about a Native issue, or simply take part in a human conversation, Crowe presents him merely as a symbol and a plot device.
The film also misses the opportunity to explore experiences of military families and fighter pilots. Crowe doesn’t let Stone’s character convince us that she takes to the sky.
As for the music, Crowe includes everything from rock and pop tunes to 1960s space electronica to traditional Hawaiian music. Slack-key guitarist and falsetto singer Ledward Kaapana and 12-string guitarist and singer Mike Kaawa appear.
Alec Baldwin, as a yelling general, and Danny McBride as a colonel with compulsive fingers, round out the supporting cast.
two and a half stars
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski
Written and directed by: Cameron Crowe
Running time: 1 hour, 45 minutes