We could call Aloha a date movie. After all, Bradley Cooper and Emma Stone hook up amid Hawaiian-set romantic shenanigans. But that would require us to ignore the large swath of its running time dedicated to pseudo-satirical political intrigue, which includes (but isn’t limited to!) Chinese hackers commandeering a satellite sent into space by an uber-rich Bill Murray (and he’s outfitted it with a secret nuclear weapon) only for Cooper’s military-employed engineer to save mankind by destroying it (by way of hacking the device and forcing the emittance of a massive sound file that contains the entirety of recorded audio).
The film is written and directed by Cameron Crowe (Say Anything, Almost Famous), which explains the pop-music-saves-the-world scenario. But the rest is something I’m not sure even he could explain. The political intrigue happens independent of Stone, whose character is incredibly both a fighter pilot (yet we never see her flying) and a quarter Hawaiian (her origins are used to cover up corny faux-spiritual dialogue). She is quick to coo at Cooper’s cynical nature mawkishly, and about the all-encompassing spiritual presence of “the sky” (under the guise of regional awareness).
Then there’s a whole other happening on the film’s margins, where Cooper meets up with the one who got away (Rachel McAdams), who’s since started a family with a mostly mute military pilot (John Krasinski). Cooper hurt her maliciously, and now she’s torn between the relief she feels seeing him again and the anger she feels toward him for being an asshole. Most of the film is artlessly sunny and overlit to excess, looking like a cheap painting you might find for sale at a beachfront souvenir shop. It’s telling that these nuanced, ruggedly acted domestic moments—like a long take that shoots Cooper within the mesh of a screen entrance—are the only ones captured with an audacious eye.
So in those rare digressions when we get away from the Strangelove stuff, the Stone flirtations, and the half-assed cultural tourism, we’re rewarded with an earnestly performed melodrama. But even that’s subject to the way that the film randomly enters in and out of a farcical tone. Not even on a subplot-by-subplot basis—just whenever Crowe feels like it. Stone will walk to and fro in front of a door, Benny Hill-style, only to enter and have an otherwise natural conversation. And the lingering anxiety between Cooper and Krasinski can be solved with a metatextual flourish (subtitles for their thoughts) after an hour of immutable anguish.
This is not even to mention that occurrences that could serve as the basis for entirely separate films—like Cooper learning that the girl McAdams has been raising for more than a decade is actually his daughter—come and go at random, appearing and disappearing as quickly as Crowe’s signature dad-rock soundtrack cuts. To call his film and its schizophrenic structure “bad” is to stop short.
Aloha has the disorienting effect of some hard drugs: You leave the theater in a daze, wondering what happened, and trying to remember if you were ever enjoying it.
ALOHA. RATED PG-13. NOW PLAYING EVERYWHERE.