This review is made possible in part by The MovieBob Patreon.

So here’s my darkest movie-geek confession: I don’t consider the original JURASSIC PARK to be an unassailable classic. I recognize that this doesn’t make a ton of sense, given my love of Spielberg, monster-movies, science fiction and above all else Dinosaurs; but here we are.

It’s a great film – yards beyond what any other filmmaker would’ve likely done with the same material at the time, as is to be expected with Steven Spielberg – and it deserves its place on the pedestal for its iconic setpieces and industry-changing FX work, no question about it. But measured on the long-terms merits? It’s a vaunted member of the Three-Star Spielberg Club, standing proudly among MINORITY REPORT, TEMPLE OF DOOM (and LAST CRUSADE, if we’re being honest), AMISTAD, etc., but “only” just that. And while I “get” the idea that the original is effectively “Millennials’ JAWS,” sorry, no – only JAWS is JAWS.

I bring this up mainly to give you some context through which to process this review: If you’re looking for someone who views the first movie as Holy Writ to tell you whether or not someone’s gone and popped some Groucho Glasses on Michelangelo’s David? This ain’t that. But if you’ll settle for the opinion of someone who thinks the original is great but in all honestly is more of a ONE MILLION YEARS B.C./WHEN DINOSAURS RULED THE EARTH/KING KONG guy when it’s time to get his Dinosaur on, welcome aboard.

(SPOILERS, though not IMO important ones, follow)

Since I didn’t mention it before, the previous two sequels I can largely take or leave. THE LOST WORLD has awesome action sequences stuck randomly into a dreaery, mean-spirited plot while JURASSIC PARK III is a serviceable B-movie but only just that. In many ways, JURASSIC WORLD feels like the sequel the franchise has been waiting for: It’s clearly (blatantly, in fact) aiming to for ALIENS-territory, i.e. a bigger, faster, meatier, nastier extension of a more constrained original experience, trading slow-build suspense for relentless action. A welcome idea, but followed perhaps a little too slavishly: Speed and efficiency are one thing, but here’s a film that’s in such a hurry to get to the good stuff that it almost forgets to have a first act.

That lack of desire to take it slow (at least at first) is an easily dissapointment, since the actual setup for how this World actually works feels interesting enough to have merited another ride on the Welcome Trolley. Our story: Decades after the original Jurassic Park disaster(s), the InGen corporation and specifically John Hammond’s island “preserve” of cloned Dinosaurs have been bought out by a flamboyant Indian billionaire who has realized the late Park-founder’s dream of a fully functioning tourist destination – though his version is a little less “nature preserve” and a little more Busch Gardens/Sea World. Still, he’s ultimately yet another “Spare no expense!” eccentric who cares more about delighting visitors and the coolness of de-extincting Dinosaurs than profits…

…unfortunately, everyone else does still care about profits, and as the film-proper opens the new key to bigger profits is believed to be messing with Dinosaur genetics to create bigger, scarier versions aimed at wooing a public now jaded by a world where the T-Rex etc are fairly commonplace. The prototype for this new venture is Indominus Rex, a laboratory-engineered “hybrid” (“hybrid of what, exactly?” is kind of a spoiler, but suffice it to say she’s basically a bigger, more agile T-Rex with usable arms) whose creators realize too late is smart enough to stage an escape from her pen but also “disturbed” by the circumstances of her development enough to start a dino-on-dino murder spree that soon imperils the entire tourist-filled park – in particular, the young visiting nephews of head scientist Claire (Bryce Dallas-Howard), a development that spells danger for her dogged determination at remaining (what else?) a frazzled, over-scheduled, asexual workaholic who I assume InGen head-hunted from an unfinished Sandra Bullock vehicle.

Fortunately, it turns out that Jurassic World’s support staff includes Chris Pratt as Owen Grady, who just so happens to be Earth’s Greatest Human. Effectively a set of Chuck Norris Facts memes that fused and gained sentience, Owen isn’t simply an ex-Navy SEAL badass who lives a solitary life of tuning up his motorcycle outside his kickass trailer out in the park’s wilderness and a studly nature/survival expert, he’s also (yes, really) a soulful animal lover who has managed to tame a pack of Velociraptors pitbull-rehabilitator style and scolds the JW bosses for not being respectful enough of his Dinosaur pals. His silent head-nods may or may not also cure Cancer – I’d have to watch a second time to confirm.

(Seriously, though. I’m trying to think of a “flaw” the film affords Owen and I’m coming up blank. The closest I can come is that he’s a little too forward in his 007-esque “wooing” of Claire… and I’m not convinced that the film intends us to recognize it as too forward.)

In any case, Owen is technically onhand playing Cesar Milan to The Raptors at the behest of Vincent D’Onofrio’s sleazy InGen exec as part of an off the books side-project with B.D. Wong’s returning Doctor Wu dedicated to pre-loading a storyline for the next movie: In this case, a scheme to use Dinosaurs to combat terrorists in lieu of soldiers/drones – and yes, it’s presented as offhandedly (“Oh, incidentally, I’ve got this paramilitary-Raptor thing cooking, too.”) as I’m making it sound.

It’s such an insane “big idea,” conceptually, (though not that insane – at one point, dino-commandos were to be the focus of an unmade third sequel) that I’m giving to suspect that having it as an explicit part of the story (scheming about it openly represents about 90% of D’Onofrio’s dialogue) but leaving the loose-end to dangle teasingly is the result of a hasty rewrite – possibly to excuse what would otherwise be the plot hole of Indominus having been designed with special powers like chameleon camouflage-skin and body-heat control that make it a formidable monster but wouldn’t be very sought-after in a zoo attraction. I don’t know that this is the case (it’s so similar to the recurring “Weyland-Yutani wanted this to happen!” conspiracy turns in the ALIEN franchise it may well have been baked in from the start), but it feels like it from the moment it’s introduced to the last shot of Doctor Wu absconding to the JURASSIC PARK 5 writers-room with his parcel of Infinity Stones genetic-material.

But for now, that’s our scenario: Indominus Rex (I-Rex – iRex – GET IT!??) is on the rampage amid a resort full of sitting-duck tourists and at least two moppets out in the jungle; so it falls to Owen, Claire and ultimately Owen’s team of obedient (but only just so) Raptor Buddies to team up and save the day – preferably at a pace that allows for just enough additional chaos to unfurl in the form of stampedes, sneak-attacks, paramilitary battles (InGen does not fuck around on animal-control, apparently) and a bravura setpiece wherein all manner of winged dinos set upon the tourists like pigeons at the Panera Bread dumpster. All in service of a build-up to a climactic showdown that might just set the new Gold Standard for earnestly absurd fan-service in blockbuster sequels.

If I’m making this all sound a bit silly, well… that’s because it is. Spectacularly silly, as though tweaking the noses of genre-fans who demand every last franchise tumble down into Gritty Realism Land was a Priority 1 note pinned to the screenwriter’s monitor. Director Colin Trevorrow comes from a genre-comedy background (he’s mainly known for the quirky indie time-machine dramedy SAFETY NOT GUARANTEED) and while he keeps the production from tipping over into outright farce it’s clear from the get-go that he’s bringing a lighter, more mischievous touch to things than Spielberg (or Joe Johnston) did previously: The big action scenes happen mostly in the brightly-lit daytime, and there’s a playfulness to hypothetically “tense” moments like Indominus’ attack on a “gyrosphere” vehicle that looks (one would have to assume intentionally) like a mash-up of the original’s iconic T-Rex jeep-attack and a cat fumbling with a hamster ball.

There’s a sly (and subtle, considering the material) sense of of self-awareness underpinning the proceedings, as scene after scene staged as bigger, flashier, tackier versions of “majestic” staple-sequences from the original film(s) play out amid a story that’s entirely about the ugly business of turning miracles of science and technology into marketing opportunities – and lest you think that tonal dissonance is some kind of accident: one of the main secondary good guys is a tech-support engineer (Jake Johnson) who shows up to work in a vintage Jurassic Park logo t-shirt (“Don’t you think that’s in bad taste?”), keeps toy dinosaurs at his workstation and grumbles about “legit” Hammond’s original Park was versus branding-saturated version he works at now (iRex’s full name is “Verizon Wireless Presents Indominus-Rex.”)

I’m down for all that (if anything, I found myself wishing they’d found a way around doing the “park disaster” story again so the setting could be as refreshing as the approach) but the flip-side to playing things so loose and fun-for-fun’s-sake is that you start to question what’s a knowing wink and what’s legitimately not working: Is Indominus not being quite as next-level scary as she’s meant to be a deliberate commentary on half-baked marketing schemes, or could the new monster have used a few more passes at the design-phase? Are Howard’s icy/flustered working girl and Pratt’s Velociraptor Dundee routine so enthusiastically one-dimensional because Trevorrow is having fun with the arch-ness of blockbuster stock-types or has something been lost in the writing (or the edit)? Is the secondary cast overstuffed with mirror-characters (there’s effectively a good/bad version of everyone, even two separate teams of soldiers for you to alternately root for/against when they go up against iRex) and subplots because we’re riffing on the bigger-faster-meaner buildup for sequels or… well, see above.

Still, the fact remains I showed up for Dinosaur Action, and if JURASSIC WORLD is committed to one thing it’s Dinosaur Action by the barrel-full. Like I said at the beginning, I love myself a respectable B-movie that bends (or breaks) logic, realism, screenwriting rules etc into knots in order to justify insane monster action; and there are moments (especially once Act 3 kicks into gear) where the film leaps enthusiastically into the same intentional Saturday Morning Cartoon miasma PACIFIC RIM mined to such great effect. This is a new(ish) animal from the “majestic” slow burn that even Spielberg was unable to hit twice; and taken both on it’s own goofy, knowing terms it’s both a riot of a new production and just enough of a nostalgic callback (you’ll see) that I can’t not reccommend it.

This review was made possible in part by The MovieBob Patreon.


NOTE:This review is brought to you in part via The MovieBob Patreon.

The INSIDIOUS movies are easily the most idiosyncratic (successful) horror franchise of the moment, built out of elements like recurring characters, signature visuals, mythology and a unique internal logic that the rest of the genre has largely abandoned in favor of chasing grimy grit-gore (HOSTEL and MARTRS, but more so their lesser imitators) or cheapjack trickery (PARANORMAL ACTIVITY etc). That’s what helps it stand out in a field that otherwise seems to be chasing forgettable as an ideal, but it can also be a trap pointing to diminishing returns: Eventually the 80s slashers with their iconic masks and signature weapons (particularly Freddy Krueger, whose as close to a direct ancestor as INSIDIOUS has) ceased to be scary through all the recognizability.

To be fair, INSIDIOUS stock in trade is a fairly unique brew: Small-space haunting/possession stories featuring violently-proactive “rule-breaking” specters (who manage to still be legitimately scary while being designed in an overly-specific “Halloween spook-house” style that shouldn’t work but does) and visits to “the other side” (“The Further” in INSIDIOUS-speak) imagined through a weird mix of new-school FX and low-tech settings – usually just an actor holding a single light-source in an empty space full of dry-ice fog. That’s a pretty damn unique stamp, and one that can probably sustain the series for a while longer, but CHAPTER 3 shows signs that the limit is significantly lower than the sky.

Let’s be clear: The original INSIDIOUS was an out-of-nowhere masterpiece as far as I was concerned, and the sequel was an impressive effort boosted by one killer Big Idea (since “dead worlds” are outside time and space, why not add time travel to the bag of tricks?) but kneecapped by a baffling revival of one of horror’s most unpleasant “things were different back then” character tropes. CHAPTER 3 brings nothing like that to the table, thankfully, but the innovation has been dialed back as well – it’s easily the most conventional of the series, and while that doesn’t have to be a deal-breaker it means the constant sense of “Wow! I can’t believe they pulled that off!” that very much defined the prior installments (for me, at least) isn’t very present.

This is technically a “prequel,” but mainly for the purposes of keeping hardworking character-actress Lin Shaye around as the (still living version of) medium Elise. It’s billed as an “origin” story, but really it’s just a new, unrelated haunting yarn executed “Insidious-style” and with a quickie explanation for how Elise first hooked up with her younger, geekier colleagues from the previous two installments tacked on for Act 3. Nothing wrong with that, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t more interested in the “ghost versus ghost” angle that the ending of Part II seemed to be pitching.

The story this time: A stressed-out teenage girl has been trying to contact the spirit of her recently-deceased mother, but has instead earned the attention of the malignant soul-gobbling spirit (an emaciated old man in an oxygen mask who leaves slimy black footprints everywhere – a servicable but non-classic heavy) haunting her apartment complex. The creature arranges for her to be injured and bedridden, making the torment and possession easier, and necessitating Elise (who at this point had retired because she’s depressed at the suicide of her husband and fears meeting the lethal Bride in Black ghost again) getting back into the field to stop it.

The counter-intuitive non-spectacle of Shaye’s unassuming heroine as a discount Doctor Strange is still the franchise’s most amusing conceit, and the rest of the film fits together well enough, but there’s a sameness setting in that’s more pronounced now that you can’t blame it on other returning actors of plot details. Co-creator and co-star Leigh Whannell takes over the directing duties and acquits himself ably in terms of keeping the style consistent, but what perhaps should’ve been a perfect place to start expanding the formula plays it pretty safe – if you know the “beats” of the series thus far (cluttered room = monster hiding motionless in plain sight, false/false/REAL rhythm for most scares, if one of those pale blue ghost-faces is hanging out JUST visibly enough in the frame something bigger is going to lunge out from another angle while you’re busy squinting, etc) you’re probably not going to jump very far back.

The finale, at least, is interestingly realized after all the work is done getting there: Nothing earth-shattering, but after decades of seeing variations on the seance/exorcism-to-reclaim-a-stolen-soul routine it’s nice to see a new-ish twist on the proceedings (the Big Bad keeps a half-formed homonculus representing 1/2 of his target’s soul like a pet, and it “fills out” as he claims more and more) that eventually blows up into a memory-totem/emotional-appeal/divine-intervention whirl that wouldn’t have been out of place in a mid-80s Amblin production. I will say, though, that it’s getting to the point where INSIDIOUS needs to start locking down exactly what meaningfully separates souls/ghosts/demons/remnants/etc in its mythos; since right now they appear to function interchangably.

These things tend to keep going for as long as they’ll turn a profit, and having now used two secondary-endings to tease the return of a pivotal character one can only assume that’s grist for the mill in CHAPTER 4. All well and good… except that probably means monster-backstory and the last time the series bothered to try that the results were pretty wonky. Then again, the FAST & FURIOUS movies took 5 to 6 tries to start getting good, so the “rules” of franchise-rot seem to have changed recently – but those are going to still have new ways to crash cars long after INSIDIOUS has run out of dark corners to stick ghosts in.

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Take This

Mental health charity Take This (which is run/founded by dear friends of mine and which I continue to be proud to offer help and support) yesterday announced a partnership with IGN that will see their most well-known (so far) undertakings, providing clinician and volunteer-staffed safe spaces called “AFK Rooms” at gaming and fan-conventions, expand in presence beyond the various PAX iterations to other venues including SDCC.

Really proud of these folks. Good people doing the best possible kind of work. Take a look, and if so-inclined please consider showing your support.

Review: SPY (2015)

This review is brought to you in part by The MovieBob Patreon.

Finally, I can feel 100% good about “defending” Melissa McCarthy.

Don’t get me wrong: I’d be a fan no matter what – McCarthy is one of the most gifted screen comics working today. However, while a natural born-and-bred movie star all the same, she finds herself in the difficult position where certain facts of her existence are so far outside the “typical” for a movie star (re: age, weight, being a woman who excells at “blue humor” and broad physical comedy) tend to turn her very presence in a film into a “statement” – one that frequently draws responses oozing with an inexplicable vitriol that can’t help but make even the least chivalrous cad rise up and say “Hey! Leave her alone, jerk!”

Unfortunately, actors are tied to their movies and their roles, and as such full-throated endorsements of McCarthy as not only possessing great talent but having the right to show it off in movies have had to come bundled with caveats… namely that the movies themselves weren’t often all that good. Her starmaking supporting turn in BRIDESMAIDS as the most memorable female version ever of the kinds of raunchy party-animal role pioneered by Belushi, Farley and Kevin James has thus far been a the high point of a rocky subsequent run that’s included dismal entries like IDENTITY THIEF, underwhelming fare like THE HEAT and the genuinely abominable TAMMY. (Though she was excellent in the indie dramedy ST. VINCENT and continues to do fine work on the comfortably-ordinary sitcom MIKE & MOLLY.)

But now, with SPY, there’s no reason for any equivocations or asterisks: This is as perfect a star-vehicle as has been conceived for a comedian since Adam Sandler pulled on his blue suit for THE WEDDING SINGER. It’s the most complete screen performance of her career to date, a career-best for writer/director Paul Feig and will easily end up being one of the funniest comedies of the Summer. The longevity of comedies can be hard to gauge (I’m glad to see people other than me finally coming around to WALK HARD) but right now SPY feels like an instant classic.

The first and best thing that the film does right is to focus on McCarthy’s ability to inhabit a character rather than projecting someone’s idea of a “stock persona,” i.e. THE HEAT being essentially “What if Megan from BRIDESMAIDS was a cop?” Here, she’s Susan Cooper, an office-bound CIA Agent whose main job is being the voice in the ear of (and second set of eyes for) a 007-style badass gentleman spy played by Jude Law: He does the fighting, shooting, spying and killing, she tells him where the bad guys are coming from via satellite and calls in airstrikes if he gets in a fix.

Sadly, she’s also nursing a huge crush to which he’s oblivious to the point of genuine cruelty. But that doesn’t stop her from swearing vengeance when Law’s Agent is murdered in the field by the femme fatale daughter of a recently-deceased supervillain (Rose Byrne) who reveals that she knows the names and faces of every active CIA field operative; meaning that the only hope to stop her from selling a stolen nuke to terrorists is the send an Agent whose never actually been in the field before – an Agent like Susan.

Pretty standard plotting, right? Swap around a few details and you can easily imagine this as a Will Ferrell or Kevin James vehicle (hell, it’s close to the same setup as the long-forgotten Steve Carrell update of GET SMART). But then, SPY goes and does something so off-formula for this kind of movie I wanted to spontaneously applaud:

There’s NO “Turning Susan into a real spy” training montage. Really. NONE.

Instead, it turns out that we’ve already underestimated Susan Cooper: In addition to being great tactical support, she’s also on-record with The Agency as a highly-capable hand-to-hand combatant and a master gunfighter – by all rights, she should’ve been a field agent already… but her crummy self-esteem let her be convinced that she was suited to remain her trainer (Law’s) backup. Huh. That’s different.

As you may have guessed by now, this is the “secret” of SPY: It’s a super-spy origin story as metaphor for “invisible women” in the workplace – and also, it seems, for McCarthy specifically overcoming her typecasting. Susan is flying high on the idea of being a “real” Agent at last… only to find herself deflated when she learns that the disguises and gadgets The Agency has prepared for her are all built around tacky “fat lady” stereotypes (“cat lady,” “splurging divorcee”) that handily conform to the kind of roles the actress is (likely) offered over more “glamorous” parts. Funny meta-gag, but McCarthy plays it with an extra undercurrent of real pain as Susan is continuously reminded of how unflatteringly (and inaccurately) her “friends” and co-workers see her.

The net effect of this is that we find ourselves rooting for Susan not simply to succeed, but to succeed on her own terms. Sure, she’s been ordered to “only” follow and report on her target, but we want her to kick ass. We want her to get into high-speed chases, beat down bad guys HAYWIRE-style (McCarthy acquits herself excellently in fight scenes), blow away waves of henchmen and jump onto the legs of a fleeing helicopter because we want her to win and show everybody else up.

Nowhere does this work better than a risky but rewarding third-act digression where Susan decides to toss off her Agency-approved cover and glamour-up to ingratiate herself into her quarry’s entourage. It’s a classic “hero’s bloom” moment that impressively one-ups the similar reveal of “cleaned-up” Eggsy in KINGSMEN and doubles as a handy villain-defining opportunity by having Byrne spit casual “mean girl” venom on her efforts (not that Cooper doesn’t get her back, branding her foe’s traditional super-villainess decorative-catsuit look as “slutty dolphin-trainer.”)

On top of all that good-vibes agreeability, though, SPY is simply really damn funny. The gags come fast and land with killer frequency, and McCarthy seamlessly transitions from comic-relief to put-upon “straightwoman” for a good deal of screentime while the more colorful side-characters get to do the more elaborate business. Amazingly, the secret weapon turns out to be none other than a perfectly-cast Jason Statham – who’s done comedy before but never exactly this well – as a legendarily-badass Agent chasing the same case as Cooper. He’s playing the same character he usually does, i.e. a guy whose (supposed) battlefield heroics are so over-the-top that you have to assume he’s either incredibly brave or incredibly stupid… but this time the answer really is “stupid.” With a touch more screentime, he could easily have stolen the movie right out from under the star.

I won’t call it flawless (too many action comedies don’t bother to go for action-level cinematography, and there’s a few Act 3 plot-turns that feel too convenient and unlikely) but SPY is the real deal. There isn’t a funnier comedy in theaters right now, and even if you think you’ve already “given up” on Melissa McCarthy you owe it to yourself to give it a look. I loved this one.

*This review was is brought to you in part by The MovieBob Patreon. If you’d like to see more like it, along with blogs, essays and other original content, please consider becoming a Patron.

More Like It

AOL made a big deal this morning out of debuting what I’ll assume is the U.S. trailer for Sarah Gavron’s SUFFRAGETTE, a dramatization of the “angry period” of the Votes For Women movement in turn of the century Britain (in response to increased police aggression, segments within the movement turned from peaceful demonstration to physical resistance and anarachist-style acts of violence/vandalism including bombings) with Carey Mulligan, Meryl Streep and Helena Bonham Carter.

Not a bad clip, but it managed to undercut what’s supposed to be the aggressive “get mad and break shit” hook of the piece (we’re in SELMA “Hey! These supposedly more ‘respectable’ early days of social activism were way more similar to modernity than you’ve been told” territory) but smothering it’s back-half with a slowed-down version of “Landslide” – tonally wrong, and a serious mood killer.

Fortunately, the film is also opening the BFI London Film Festival; and a separate trailer announcing that appearance goes for a more sweeping “action drama” tone overall. Check it out:

Now that’s more like it! Film is scheduled for an October 23rd release stateside, but will probably turn up on the festival circuit building steam for awards season before that.

TRIVIA: Meryl Streep is playing Emmeline Pankhurst, leader/founder of the “militant” Women’s Social and Political Union. I’m wondering if the film will include “The Amazons,” a contingent of female bodyguards maintained by the WSPU to protect “fugitive” suffragettes temporarily released from prison for health reasons from being re-arrested (and to go hand-to-hand with police and male counter-rioters) who carried concealed Indian Clubs as weapons and were trained in Jiu-Jitsu by Western martial-arts pioneer Edith Margaret Garrud.

Review: ALOHA

NOTE: This review made possible in part by The MovieBob Patreon. If you’d like to see more like it, please consider becoming a patron.

Counting last year’s INTERSTELLAR, Cameron Crowe’s ALOHA is the third relatively recent big studio/big star movie to ground a “how far we’ve fallen” moral-center on the lessened public-profile of NASA and Kennedy-era scientific-optimism. Given that all three (Brad Bird’s spectacularly-misfired TOMORROWLAND being the third) have been pretty bad films (with ALOHA hopefully representing rock-bottom, because if not…), it would appear that one of the Space Agency’s biggest yet least remarked-upon problems is that its self-appointed spokespeople suck at the job.

It almost feels like a digression to bring it up, since mourning the end of the Space Race is a minor element in ALOHA; entering the plot chiefly in connection to the backstory of ostensible hero Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper), whose dreams of Astronaut glory were cut short by public disinterest in space, and the Hawaiian setting’s own unbreakable connection to that same kitschy/sincere moment in American pop-culture history when spaceflight and a storybook Polynesian paradise as an easily-visited American state both felt like future-fantasy wish dreams come to life… but that’s the problem with ALOHA in general: Everything is a minor plot element. There’s no sense of scale or center to the various goings-on trying to comprise a story, nothing to hang onto.

The story, such as it is, goes like this (SPOILERS from here out): Having been right-man/wrong-time’d out of going to space, Gilcrest took his military/pilot skills into the private sector as a Blackwater-ish mercenary for an Musk/Soros/Branson/Gates hybrid tech-billionaire/philanthropist (it’s kind of unclear what he actually does) played by Bill Murray, whose latest project involves joint-launching his new satellite with help from the U.S. Army base in Hawaii and (if successful) paying for a base-expansion that will make it the new hub of U.S. space/military presence in the Pacific. But! The construction will require moving an ancient Native Hawaiian burial site, which requires (for P.R.) the literal and figurative blessing of the independent native-nation’s King Bumpy, whose reticent to do so because of Hawaiian religious myths about the sanctity of the sky but might be convinced by his old friend Gilcrest.

However! Gilcrest is viewed as a loose-canon because of an unspecified (for no reason than that the script wants it to be an Act 3 reveal) “incident” in the Middle East, so he’s assigned a military handler in the form of Emma Stone’s Captain Ng; a 1/4 Native Hawaiian (no, really) rising-star pilot who is alternately a hard-nosed army-robot and a drippy, starry-eyed romantic who believes literally in the religious mythology of Ancient Hawaii. OH! And this is actually all B-story (or, at least, it feels like it was meant to be before every storyline was cut down to equal-incomprehensibility) to the main drama: Gilcrest’s return unwittingly (maybe?) upending the troubled marriage of his former love (Rachel McAdams) and conversation-averse lovable-lunkhead pilot (John Krasinski) which may or may not involve an uncomfortable secret about their eldest child that the film expects you not to guess even after you notice only one kid is important to the plot…

And if all that sounds both inane and convoluted, imagine it being doled out piecemeal and out of order mainly in the form of conversational side-details as the film charts a burgeoning (out of nowhere) romance between Gilcrest and Ng; because this is a Cameron Crowe movie and Cameron Crowe makes movies about magical pixie-women who exist largely to entice, trick or drag broken/incomplete men into the next logical phase of their lives through romantic availability (that’s not the problem – the problem is he isn’t good at it anymore.) Cooper is as appealing as he typically is when not voicing a Space Raccoon (read: not very), but Stone’s character feels like the worst example yet of the spell her presence seems to cast over older male filmmakers – one that compells them to hand her underwritten fantasy-girlfriend roles that mainly involve flitting around like Tinkerbell for their chastely-leering camera. Is there a more criminally-underutilized actress currently working?

In between their utterly unconvincing will-they/won’t-they drift a dizzying number of minor story-beats, go-nowhere subplots and Oh-So-Crowe scenes of people lounging about and losing themselves in needle-drop pop music: Bumpy wants land-rights to a mountain in exchange for the blessing. Danny McBride’s goof-up soldier is nicknamed “fingers” for some reason. Gilcrest and Ng encounter a parade of Hawaiian warrior-ghosts. It happens to be Christmas for no reason. Mute Husband walks out because he feels inferior to Gilcrest. There’s a scene where Murray and Stone dance for no real reason. The Menehune (dwarf-like spirits in Hawaiian mythology) may be about at one point. Ng and McAdams’ younger kid are both fixated on an approaching holiday related to the Goddess Pele. Said younger kid is also an amature videographer whose obsessive filmming of his island home’s goings-on (remember when we asked filmmakers to be subtle about self-insert characters?) may or may not have captured evidence that something sinister is going into space along with that satellite – something that would violate a promise from Ng to Bumpy that the army will not put weapons in the sky over Hawaii. Oh, and Alex Baldwin is there.

It’s all as ridiculous as it sounds, but without the enthusiastic go-for-broke gumption that characterized more noble recent failures like JUPITER ASCENDING or the initial wave of Tyler Perry productions. Instead it’s boring, the obvious result of studio attempts to salvage a dud by cutting for time even though Crowe was obviously going for a setting-appropriate (though likely just as insufferable) laid-back pacing. In this respect it most-closely resembles another recent atrocity, LITTLE BOY (I’ve got to write that… thing up one of these days); at least until the finale, where (I warned you about SPOILERS:) Gilcrest redeems himself to Ng by contacting a computer-expert pal we’ve never seen before so that they can blow-up the evil satellite in orbit by uploading “the entire history of recorded sound” (mostly 70s pop-rock, because Cameron Crowe) into it’s… mainframe, I guess? But! It’s all okay because it turns out Bill Murray was actually a Bond Villain this whole time and that was his nuclear-missile on the satellite, not the Army’s. So Brian not only saves his soul and (eventually) his ex’s marriage, he gets to retire as World Savior and Ng’s Hawaiian house-husband. Yay?

Supposedly this is all the “re-tooling” of an earlier project called DEEP TIKI, which would’ve featured Ben Stiller and Reese Witherspoon in the Cooper/Stone roles. The problems surrounding that version (namely the studio hated it and was losing patience with Crowe) came embarrassingly to light during the Sony email hacking scandal, but from the looks of things this was a salvage job that was never actually going to work. The popular notion that Crowe has been heading downhill since making his most personal work in ALMOST FAMOUS (which dovetails nicely with the second-wave indie scene kids co-opting his “earnest dork meets sexy life-coach” storyline en-masse) has been well proven by now, but ALOHA represents a whole new depth of failure: He’s not simply playing the same old song, he can’t even play it well anymore.

Also, asking Bradley Cooper to do his weaksauce “rakish charmer bro” schtick in the same movie as the actual Bill Murray is unfair to the point of cruelty – it’s like watching a birthday party magician step to Gandalf The White… but that probably would’ve been true no matter who was directing.

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