(USA, 105 min.)
Written and directed by Cameron Crowe
Starring: Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone, Rachel McAdams, Bill Murray, John Krasinski, Alec Baldwin
Ahahana! [pronounced: ah hah hah' nah !] reportedly means “Shame on you! / You're gonna get it!” in Hawaiian according to a website that’s just a lazy Google search away. One's initial impulse is to leave the theatre join in the chorus of critics, Hawaiians, and, probably, gods chanting Ahahana! to Cameron Crowe for his disappointing misfire Aloha. Aloha feels as if Crowe simply did a quick search on Hawaiian myth and folklore (keyword: ‘hawaiian love spirits’) and used the first hit that came up to pepper this sunny rom-com with the soul of the gods.

I know nothing about Hawaii other than what I’ve seen in The Descendants or, sadly, 50 First Dates, but Aloha’s play on the spiritual power of the warm Hawaiian breeze just feels off. It’s not a gross error of whitewashing or cultural appropriation (early reviews reach a bit too far), but it's certainly problematic; rather, it’s simply a matter of bad storytelling. Aloha is a lazy film from a great writer/director.

Crowe, the mind behind films such as Jerry Maguire, Vanilla Sky, and Almost Famous (for which his screenplay won an Oscar), can deliver some of the best, sweetest, and most honest reflections of young love that a movie can muster. Even 2005’s Elizabethtown is worth defending if one can get through the first twenty minutes. There’s no defending Aloha, but there’s no reason to deride it, either. It’s just a forgettable film that backfires in spite of the range of talent both behind the camera and in front of it.

The film features a range of annoying, unlikable, and unbelievable characters including Brian (Bradley Cooper), a military contractor visiting Hawaii for a ceremony and a secret operation; Allison Ng (Emma Stone), Brian’s naval escort who is the Energizer Bunny incarnate; and Woody (John Krasinski), the most irritating sketch of a bro one will ever see. They’re joined by Tracy, played by Rachel McAdams, whose warm, radiant performance is the only thing that keeps Aloha from flying off the rails altogether. The warm Hawaiian spirits connect this quartet as wind creeps through screen doors and arouses a little something-something in the heart hearts of these folks stationed in Hawaii.

The love story between Brian and Allison never quite convinces as Ng escorts Brian around the island and becomes instantly infatuated with him. He’s an arrogant jerk and she’s a wound-up keener, and both Cooper and Stone struggle to make their characters real in spite of the charm, flaws, and idiosyncrasies. Ng is especially annoying, as she repeatedly reminds fellow characters that she is “one-quarter Hawaiian” to validate the spiritual connection she feels to the land and air. One-quarter Hawaiian is as authentic as Aloha gets: if Emma Stone can’t even make a bubbly burst of sunshine bearable, then nobody can.

Aloha moves briskly from plotline to plotline and creates a rushed, mildly coherent cinematic sit-com as the love triangle meshes with a big naval conspiracy featuring Alec Baldwin, Bill Murray, some token legit Hawaiians, and a message about the rights and responsibilities humans have to the earth and sky. Aloha looks doubly unfocused as busy cinematography by Eric Gauthier proves disorienting and many of Crowe’s staging are awkward and distracting. Take, for example, one scene that sees Tracy and Woody argue in their bedroom. The scene cuts from a close up of Adams and Krasinski to a random high angle from the back corner of the room. The jump makes no sense as it goes from an intimate pull to a Big Brotherly push. Crowe can do better, and the bizarre camera placements highlight lazy filmmaking from a director who usually draws ample heart and humor from his performers.

Aloha nevertheless has fleeting glimpses of Cameron Crowe greatness. A few exchanges between Cooper and Stone have the bittersweetness of which good rom-coms are made when Aloha redeems one of its goofiest moments and sees Ng wiping away tears from underneath a big hat with built in sunglasses. There’s a seed for screwball comedy here, if only a shapeless one. On the other hand, Aloha gives Rachel McAdams some of her best work when Tracy confronts her conflicted feelings for Brian and Woody, and Crowe lets McAdams shine in a close-up that makes fine use of the warm Hawaiian atmosphere and plays into Brian’s underlying ignorance of the people and culture that surrounds him. There’s clearly a good film somewhere in Aloha, but this cut resembles an early draft.

Rating: ★★ (out of ★★★★★)

Aloha is now playing in wide release.