Cameron Crowe is no stranger to redemption stories, from Tom Cruise's sports agent in crisis in "Jerry Maguire" to Orlando Bloom's suicidal shoe designer in "Elizabethtown" to Matt Damon's grieving widower in "We Bought a Zoo."
The director's latest movie, the Hawaii-set romantic comedy "Aloha," once again centers on a man — this time a jaded military contractor played by Bradley Cooper — trying to figure out whether and how to put his life back together.
But as "Aloha" emerges from its first weekend in theaters, it seems that Crowe too is looking to get back on the right track: His latest effort grossed an underwhelming $10 million in North America, taking the No. 6 spot.
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Going into the weekend, "Aloha" was projected to take in a soft $12 million to $15 million, and clouds of bad buzz were already gathering. In recent months the film had been pushed back on the release calendar and badmouthed by Sony executives in leaked emails, and more recently it came under fire for perceived cultural insensitivity.
Reviews were also overwhelmingly poor: Variety, for example, called it "unquestionably Cameron Crowe's worst film." Even one of the few positive appraisals, from The Times' Mark Olsen, said, "With its unguarded emotions and romantic earnestness, 'Aloha' seems out of touch with these times, its pre-release bad-luck run a sign of some core disconnect."
On the plus side, "Aloha" cost a relatively modest $37 million to produce, so it could still make headway in the coming weeks if word of mouth proves strong. However, moviegoers gave the film a lackluster B-minus grade, according to the polling firm CinemaScore.
A onetime teenage rock journalist turned wunderkind filmmaker, Crowe has certainly proven in the past that he can dazzle moviegoers and critics, with credits including "Fast Times at Ridgemont High" (as screenwriter), "Say Anything," "Jerry Maguire" and "Almost Famous." But his output in recent years has been relatively sparse, and something of a mixed bag.
The director's previous movie, the 2011 family dramedy "We Bought a Zoo," boasted a starry duo in Damon and Scarlett Johansson but didn't make a big impression on moviegoers or critics. It grossed a solid $120 million worldwide, on a $50 million budget, and earned decent reviews.
That was still enough to be an improvement on "Elizabethtown," Crowe's 2005 film starring Bloom and Kirsten Dunst. A tragicomic romance about a troubled sneaker creator and a free-spirited flight attendant, "Elizabethtown" flopped at the box office and was panned by critics. In one review, Nathan Rabin of AV Club coined the derisive term "manic pixie dream girl" to describe Dunst's character.
"Aloha" comes as Crowe's third narrative film of the last 10 years — he also made the music documentaries "The Union" and "Pearl Jam Twenty," which did not get wide theatrical releases. His last movie to cross the $100 million mark in North America was "Vanilla Sky," back in 2001.
In hopes of drumming up support for "Aloha," Sony made the rare move of posting the first eight minutes of "Aloha" on YouTube on Friday. In the clip, Cooper's character says, "Finally, I got a crappy second chance. At least I was going back to Hawaii."
Crowe will no doubt get another chance to win over moviegoers and critics too. But it looks as though he won't find his salvation in Hawaii — or at least not in "Aloha."