A movie like Aloha can make a guy feel like he hasn’t been paying attention. Cameron Crowe’s choppy, distracted new romantic comedy at least follows the template the writer-director set in Jerry Maguire, Elizabethtown, and We Bought A Zoo, the latter two of which Aloha is at least better than. Here’s how it goes: A basically decent guy who’s badly lost his way both professionally and personally finds redemption in the love of a good gal. In Aloha, that guy is Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), a once idealistic Air Force vet who, as we are told in awkward voiceover, hit the skids in 2008, went to work for a powerful, eccentric space tech billionaire (Bill Murray, freestyling), got mentally and physically mangled in Afghanistan, and did some (unspecified) bad stuff.
Anyway, the movie — which tells its story with frustrating, baffling clumsiness — begins with Gilcrest’s return to his old stomping grounds, Hickam Air Force Base. Working for the “gray side,“ Gilcrest is doing the bidding of Murray who has sent him to sweet talk his old friend, the island elder (played by real life native leader Dennis “Bumpy” Kanahele), into blessing the relocation of an ancient gate and burial ground to allow huge rockets and telecommunication equipment to dot the island. The native leader strikes a hard bargain ("Two mountains and cellphone service!”) as Gilcrest swears up and down that the agreement comes without a weapons-in-space clause. You know where this is going, right?
Anyway, while that cliched plot strand is unraveling, the morally compromised Gilcrest rekindles a unresolved relationship with an ex Tracy (Rachel McAdams, making much out of little) who is now married to Woody (John Krasinski), an amusingly inarticulate Air Force pilot, and is the loving mother of two smart, great-looking kids. Then, there’s Captain Ng (Emma Stone), Gilcrest’s tour guide and handler, a chattily manic eager beaver fighter pilot who frequently announces that she is one-quarter Hawaiian and seems to fall for him the instant she claps eyes on him — with the help of some Hawaiian manna and Crowe’s sweet, frequent sprinkles of magical realism. Their romantic scenes, along with the rest of the movie, are jam-packed with quirky Crowe-style dialogue and monologues that, unlike those in Say Anything or Jerry Maguire, sound more showoff-y and writerly than anything any human being would actually say to another. Worse, the love story seems so undernourished and sudden that when Cooper ogles Stone and utters, “Boy, am I a goner,” you might scratch your head wondering, What did I miss?
The film rides the wave of a typically Crowe-ian wall-to-wall soundtrack that includes everything from Hall and Oates’ “I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)” (Murray and Stone dance to it and it’s cool) to some haunting, atmospheric authentic native Hawaiian tracks that remind one too often of the much-better The Descendents. Aloha isn’t a total wipeout. A few of the scenes between Cooper (a misjudged performance) and Stone (appealing as always) are sweet and tart, Krasinski is very good in his brief role, and a welcome Alec Baldwin bungee-jumps in as a insultingly nasty loudmouth general. But when you’re hungry for a full luau, a side of fish and poi won’t do. For those of us pulling for Crowe to pull off a return to the glory days of Say Anything, Jerry Maguire and, most of all, Almost Famous, Aloha feels thin, tonally weird, false, and undernourishing. **