“Aloha” can mean either hello or goodbye in Hawaiian. Thus it’s an appropriate title for a movie that doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.
That the latest from writer/director Cameron Crowe isn’t a total disaster can be credited to players whose charisma helps paper over the screaming holes and loopy notions marring the doddering screenplay.
These performers are just good enough to wrest a few memorable moments from the general chaos of an eccentric romantic comedy that isn’t particularly romantic or funny.
Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a near-legendary former Air Force officer who was deeply involved in the U.S. space program. But after a long career decline and injuries incurred while a contractor in Afghanistan, he’s now a mere shadow of his former self.
He has returned to his old stomping grounds in Hawaii as an employee of multibillionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), who has invested heavily in a private rocket program and needs the blessing of native Hawaiian leaders to pave over some public relations potholes.
Brian’s assignment is to look up his old friend, the king of the nativist Nation of Hawaii (Dennis Bumpy Kanahele, playing himself), and secure said blessing.
Meanwhile Brian is torn between two women. First there’s Tracy (Rachel McAdams), the love he unceremoniously dumped 13 years earlier. She’s now married to an Air Force officer (John Krasinski) and the mother of two.
The arrival of her old flame — even in his semi-decrepit condition — exacerbates Tracy’s doubts about her marriage and a husband whose verbal communications are painfully limited.
The other woman is Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a hotshot fighter pilot and one-quarter Hawaiian who is assigned as Brian’s military escort. Allison starts out all spit and polish with a salute so sharp it snaps air molecules, but after a few days as Brian’s wingman her military bearing turns all gee-whiz girly.
The dialogue is full of metaphysical musings involving island mysticism and Hawaiian mythology.
As is usual with a Crowe feature (his resume includes such winners as “Say Anything,” “Jerry Maguire” and “Almost Famous”), there’s a precocious preteen (Jaeden Lieberher) who goes around saying unnaturally wise things. And there’s his beautiful big sister (Danielle Rose Russell).
The film does have a couple of keeper moments. A dance featuring Murray and Stone at an officer’s club Christmas party is so free-spirited and good-natured that it could be a stand-alone short. And Cooper — who seems pretty dour this time around — has a fine, funny scene explaining to Tracy how her husband communicates eloquently without actually opening his mouth.
But the film has no forward momentum. And its depiction of the military is borderline insulting.
Danny McBride plays a base commander with all the restraint he brings to the role of an alcoholic baseball player (which is to say no restraint at all); Alec Baldwin shows up as a general who’s more Jack Donaghy of “30 Rock” than Omar Bradley.
Thank heavens for Stone and McAdams, who inhabit their roles with far more conviction than this effort deserves, and for Krasinski, who exudes decency without having to say much of anything.
Read more of Robert W. Butler’s reviews at butlerscinemascene.com.
Rated PG-13 | Time: 1:45