"Aloha" didn't have reviewers at hello. The summery adventure from "Jerry Maguire" director-writer Cameron Crowe got some gnarly buzz ahead of theatrical debut Friday, for both its star-packed cast and activists protesting the "bastardization" of the sacred Hawaiian word, while its blockbuster potential remained in debate.
But, as of Thursday, the official word from reviewers is out -- and it's "confusing."
Bradley Cooper stars as Brian Gilcrest, a humiliated Afghanistan war vet moonlighting as an army contractor in Hawaii trying to influence the state's ruling natives to endorse a satellite-building project commissioned by a billionaire industrialist (Bill Murray). Emma Stone plays Allison Ng, a fast-talking, fastidious fighter-pilot with vague Hawaiian ancestry, opposite Cooper. Also on the starry roster is Alec Baldwin, Rachel McAdams, John Krasinski and a cameo from the real-life Nation of Hawaii leader Dennis "Bumpy" Kanahele playing himself.
Although relieved that the movie actually does Hawaiian culture and history much more justice than the boycotter's perceived, the reviewers had qualms about the movie's content.
Entertainment Weekly's Chris Nashawaty thought Crowe commercialized the spiritual: "It's obvious that while working on 'Aloha's' script, Crowe fell in love with the islands and their people and customs. But he doesn't do them -- or his audience -- any favors by larding the story with mystical Hawaiian mythology and sledgehammer-subtle symbolism. In the film, doors and windows blow open at pivotal moments to show us that spirits are at work."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips was unnerved by the movie's confusing plot: "Despite a blue-chip cast, 'Aloha' is just frustrating. It can barely tell its story straight, and Crowe's attempt to get back to the days of 'Jerry Maguire' and 'Almost Famous' is bittersweet in ways unrelated to the narrative's seriocomic vein."
The Associate Press reviewer could barely edit down criticism for the movie's lack of focus: "'Aloha' is a meandering, needlessly confusing cacophony of story, performance, and spiritual blather. Not only does it feel inauthentic, it's often downright alien."
But Andrew Barker for Variety allowed "Aloha" its redeeming moments amid its failings: "Despite all these faults, the film isn't entirely unpleasant. Alec Baldwin gets to unleash his most full-throated bellow as a dyspeptic general. Cooper and Krasinski have a pantomimed conversation that's quite funny. And Stone and Murray stage a dance-off to Hall and Oates that's appealing for reasons which should be self-explanatory, even if it might as well have been shot at the wrap party, for all the sense it makes to the narrative."