THE BLU REVIEW: Aloha (2015)

A Cameron Crowe film with Bradley Cooper, Rachel McAdams AND Bill Murray? What could go wrong? Cal fills us in. 

Cameron Crowe continues his cinematic downward spiral with 2015’s Aloha, a project which should have been the veteran filmmaker’s redemption for past misfires, but instead plays out like a poor imitator of the type of excellent pictures that Crowe used to manufacture with ostensible ease. A tone-deaf romantic dramedy, the feature is overloaded with ideas, but Crowe struggles to connect them in a coherent or substantial way, resulting in a disjointed storytelling mess of confused tonality that squanders a superb ensemble cast. Frankly, the film’s failure is not a total surprise, considering the delays as well as the leaked emails from Amy Pascal (a former top executive at Sony Pictures) who stated that the movie was shaping up to be a disaster. With any hope, this will be Crowe’s last movie for a while.

A former Air Force pilot now working as a private contractor, Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) travels to Hawaii to assist in the launch of a communications satellite for billionaire industrialist Carson Welch (Bill Murray). Landing on the island, Brian immediately runs into ex-girlfriend Tracy (Rachel McAdams), who’s now married to airman Woody (John Krasinski) and has two children (Danielle Rose Russell, Jaeden Lieberher). Meanwhile, Air Force captain Allison Ng (Emma Stone) is assigned to monitor Brian during his five-day stay on the island, and takes an immediate liking to him. Brian finds himself drawn to Allison, but Tracy’s flirtations throw things into disarray. Also complicating matters is the impending launch of Carson’s satellite which may be a bit more sinister than anyone has suspected.

Aloha cannot figure out what it is, and the end result amounts to an erratic hodgepodge of half-baked ideas, with nothing being given the breathing space required in order to fully take flight. Crowe’s script contains several interesting concepts – including creepy Hawaiian urban legends and military-related issues – but does literally nothing with them. The main thrust of the plot concerns Carson being up to no good, but it has so little bearing on the narrative at large that one has to question its purpose. In fact, the subplot dealing with the satellite launch makes zero sense, eventually culminating with a hacker battle between Brian and some Chinese cyber-terrorists which winds up being every bit as ludicrous and perplexing as it sounds. It’s actually hard to figure out precisely what genre Crowe was aiming for – it’s not very funny, the romance never soars, and it also dips into thriller territory. It feels as it Crowe was constantly changing his mind during shooting, making it difficult to get a firm grasp on what the movie is meant to be about. It’s flat as a pancake.

As perhaps to be expected, the Hawaiian locales do make for some very pretty pictures, and the island’s natural beauty is an ideal backdrop for a film of this ilk. Aloha does look magical, with picturesque cinematography and eye-catching production values, not to mention the agreeable music that underscores the enterprise, but it ultimately amounts to nothing. With Crowe unable to juggle the various plotlines in a cohesive fashion, the characters make little sense, especially Brian who’s about as ill-defined as the movie itself. Also problematic is Tracy, who’s unusually keen to ditch her husband and get back with Brian after thirteen years apart. Meanwhile, the “romance” between Ng and Brian comes across as wholly forced. Aloha should be warm and satisfying, but instead comes across as artificial and cold to the touch, solid technical specs notwithstanding.

Aloha was shot in 2013 but spent the best part of eighteen months in post-production, with rumours surfacing online about the troubled editing process. Judging from Pascal’s emails, one supposes that Crowe’s original, much longer edit was probably a meandering mess, which prompted Sony to bring in as many people as possible to try and carve something watchable out of the available footage. One has to genuinely pity the cast at the centre of all this, with Cooper remaining quite amiable despite the poor material, while the likes of Stone and McAdams are likewise charming. But perhaps the biggest waste is Murray, who’s given hardly any screen-time, stuck with a one-dimensional role that squanders his immense talents. Considering how notoriously difficult it is to secure Murray for a motion picture, one has to wonder why Crowe opted to use him in such a wasteful manner. Other names pop-up in supporting roles, including Alec Baldwin and Danny McBride as military men, but they have minimal purpose in the story.

Admittedly, as the movie approaches the finish line, there is a degree of sincerity that works to an extent, but it’s a case of too little, too late. In fairness, Aloha does breeze by easily enough throughout its 110-minute runtime, and it’s not outright terrible enough to be angering, though this is hardly a ringing endorsement. Aloha is not some kind of abomination against cinema; just an aggressively mediocre, miscalculated dramedy for which it’s hard to conjure up much feeling towards. There has been controversy about the fact that the main characters are all Caucasian, whitewashing the Hawaiian culture, but honestly, that’s about the least of the film’s problems. Sweep this one under the rug, forget about it, and move on.

The Blu-ray

Aloha is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.85:1, via the MPEG-4 AVC encode. It looks, in a word, sensational. Crowe shot the movie on 35mm film, resulting in a nice grain structure that’s well handled by the Blu-ray. Black levels are fine, colours pop, detail is omnipresent, and the image is razor-sharp. No encoding anomalies here, aside from some noticeable and unsightly aliasing during the opening segment of 4×3-framed vintage footage. Yeah, said footage is meant to look old, but aliasing is a digital artefact. Perhaps any readers who saw the movie in the cinema can comment on whether this is attributable to the source or the disc.

Audio is fine, with a DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track doing justice to the movie. Bafflingly, this disc comes with a large selection of special features, one of the most comprehensive packages of the year. Crowe provides a dry but somewhat informative audio commentary, there’s a substantial 75-minute behind-the-scenes documentary split into three parts, there’s about forty minutes of additional footage (including a 20-minute alternate opening featuring Jay Baruchel, who was cut entirely from the final cut of the movie), and the disc is topped off with a number of featurettes, a gag reel, and about 200 still images in a photo gallery. Phew. Considering the movie’s failure at the box office, and its critical mauling, one has to wonder exactly why all the stops were pulled out on this one. The documentary is fairly interesting; it’s more or less an “art house” making of documentary, as weird as that sounds. Why is it that Aloha is given the elaborate treatment for all of its five fans on earth, while movies like Avengers: Age of Ultron and Cinderella are given the bare minimum of supplements?
Bottom line? The movie is garbage, the disc is excellent.

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