After being hit by a missile in Afghanistan, military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is back on his home island of Hawaii to win his way back into his employer’s good books by mending cultural fences with the King of Hawaii and allowing his boss (Bill Murray) to build a major private military installation on a sacred Polynesian burial ground. When he runs into an old flame (Rachel McAdams) and is assigned a liaison who already has a romantic interest in him (Emma Stone), his life quickly becomes complex.
There is something legitimately magical about a good Cameron Crowe movie. His bottomless sense of optimism and wonder pours out of the screen and infects the audience. Dudes tear up. Ladies swoon. It is one of the most unique and amazing experiences in all of cinema. Unfortunately, Aloha does not deliver on that promise. Crowe’s script centres on a snapshot of three people’s lives and tries to wrap them in the magic, myth and mystery of Hawaii, but it is as lost as its main character.
Bradley Cooper’s part in this story, even though it is the centre of the film, doesn’t make much sense and Gilcrest’s role feels like an extended McGuffin. He didn’t go to Afghanistan to fight for his country, he went to work for a military contractor who was profiting from the conflict. Worse, he wasn’t accidentally hit by an IED and tragically injured, he was hit by a missile while trying to steal $100,000 from the locals. Gilcrest is a man who is supposed to be morally bankrupt and coming home helps him find his way back, but by the time the film gets to him he’s already changed enough that his character has no true arc. Mix this with some terrible character development for Emma Stone’s quirky Allison Ng (yes, Ng) and you’ve got a central story that doesn’t make enough sense to truly care.
What does make the film worth watching is Rachel McAdams’ Tracy. While the exposition and dialogue between her and Gilcrest is rushed and clunky, McAdams brings her trademark heart and soul to a character who could have been entirely one-note and makes her struggle to keep her family together real and heartbreaking. With the hilarious addition of her nearly-silent partner John Krasinski and there is at least half a movie there. If Crowe had focused here instead of on his usual lost man guided back to life by a manic (now quirky) pixie dream girl, he would have really had a success on his hands. He doesn’t make that decision, however, and the result is a (slightly boring) mess.
(Also, after a full hour-and-a-half of movie, we finally discover that Gilcrest’s actual talent is in computers and code, not military strategy, making the idea that he was in the middle of the desert to get hit by a missile in the first place that much more laughable.)