Yes. It is as bad as everyone says it is.

Aloha, the new film by Cameron Crowe, writer and director of Almost Famous, Say Anything, and his best, Jerry Maguire, has given us another clunker like his Elizabethtown and We Bought a Zoo. Our hopes are so high for Crowe, one of the smartest writers of dialogue around. Flashes of his brilliance shine through this mess of a movie, but not at all often enough.

The problem is not the cast. With admirable actors like Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski, Emma Stone, Bill Murray and an even deeper supporting cast, this movie has no lack of talent. And none of them appear to mail it in. Even McAdams who has a very straight-line part gives it everything she’s got.

The problem with this movie is the basic plot. Two problems here. First, everything in the movie takes place within a tightly constricted moral arc; none of the characters do anything that bad, and none of them are rewarded that spectacularly. In other words there’s not enough that is actually interesting in the film. The main plot device is so ludicrous, it never feels threatening. It is not even interesting enough to merit the title Maguffin. Secondly, for the most part the characters just seem lame. Even though people treat each other badly at times, everything works out perfectly for everybody, tied up with a beautiful pink—no, pretty pink—bow. But nobody deserves it. This is not a screwball comedy of the 1930s where most people came out okay in the end because almost everybody deserves to come out okay.

Here there is no such reasonable ending. None of these characters have any right to make us think they earned a favorable nod. Cooper plays a complete screw-up whose one righteous act at the end of the movie, we are to suppose, wins him redemption, and who concludes the film wandering around with a silly smile on his face for everyone with whom he’s made contact during the movie. McAdams is a lonely, mostly single, mom whose husband doesn’t communicate with her at all and whose part is so poorly written, we never seem to know what is going on in her head. Stone plays a crazed fighter pilot (how’s that for casting? The only worse choice was Bill Murray as an evil billionaire. Come on, really?), who is obsessively devoted to the gods of Hawaii, and who just seems nutty. Throw in a seemingly constant stream of references to Hawaiian mythology, apparently intended to show Hawaii as a land of magic and mystery, and the whole island seems instead to be a mixture of crazy and stupid.

None of these people deserve the happy endings they receive, but this is not the worst thing about Aloha. Even if they had all been killed off, nobody would have cared because none of them elicits any empathy from the viewer. They are shallow, stick people. The character who comes closest is the daughter of McAdams, Gracie, who has the one truly moving scene in the film. Played by newcomer Danielle Rose Russell, the tears she sheds, when she sees her father, seem real, and our hearts break for her. She is one to watch.

Drew Trotter

June 9, 2015

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