This film is a mishmash of every possible idea: love story, love triangle, who’s the daddy, global thermonuclear war, American imperialism, kids saving the world, etc. I’m not sure what they were going for, but they tossed all these ingredients into the blender and out came a movie, at the end of which, my daughter Emma looked at me and said, “That was really bad, right?” Right.
So, here goes (spoilers galore):
Brian (Bradley Cooper) used to be somebody, but then he stole $100K from somebody in Afghanistan and got shot to heck by a missile. He’s fine now and hired by billionaire Welch (Bill Murray) who wants to be the king of space. Too bad there’s a king of Hawaii who has to be consulted about moving one of the gates at Hickam Air Force Base, so (get this) Welch can have easy access from a factory he is going to build to the base.
That’s dumb. Oahu isn’t that big. If the gate at Hickam is here or there, there isn’t going to be a substantial difference in Mr. Welch’s access (absent having to navigate the Middle Street Merge at commute). Plus, it’s a pedestrian gate they are moving. What, is he walking his satellites from the not-yet-built factory to Hickam? I’m at a loss.
The gate is important to the story, because without the need to move the gate, Brian wouldn’t have had any reason to go to Oahu to get the new gate blessed by the kahunas, and without that need, he wouldn’t have had to hike into some isolated Sovereign Nation of Hawaii lands that are overseen by the rightful king himself, who is called Bumpy. If he hadn’t needed to hike up to see His Majesty, we wouldn’t have known that Captain Ng (Emma Stone) is all authentic Hawaiian and likes to play the Waimanalo Blues. More importantly, we wouldn’t have known that King Bumpy is afraid that the Air Force is going to deploy weapons in space, and if they do, the blessing idea for the new Ped X-ing is all pau.
It gets worse. Brian promises free cell phone service and a mountain or two (or half, as it turns out) to the King of Hawaii in exchange for the blessing, but wait, as it happens, Billionaire Welch is going to launch a nuclear weapon into space after all. How do we know? We know because Brian’s ex-girlfriend’s son–because he lives at Hickam in officer housing, because his dad who never speaks is a major who flies around all the time we don’t know where–sneaks into a hangar at midnight and gets footage of said weapon, because, oh I don’t know, because you live in on-base housing, the entire base is open for you to walk around and look into classified projects after midnight with your camera videoing away. When you’re ten.
It gets even worse. Brian realizes that the Air Force is unwittingly launching a weapon. Unwittingly, because the Air Force doesn’t know what it is launching, because these dang civilians won’t tell them what is in the payload of their satellites, (I was crying by this time for the stupid.) and of course a government who can tap all our phone calls can’t get the inside scoop on a satellite it is itself launching.
The Air Force is less astute, apparently, than a 10-year-old boy, because the boy is able to tell simply by looking at the satellite in his video footage that the payload is illegal, whereas the Air Force personnel overseeing the Hickam hangars have no idea. Maybe fifth graders really are smarter than everyone else.
Good thing Brian’s there! If he wasn’t, then there would have been no one at all who could have stopped the Chinese from hacking this satellite at the last second. “Go ahead and launch! I’ll get the Chinese hack turned off in time!” He does this–good thing he needed to come over to liaise with King Bumpy, otherwise the nuke would have gotten into orbit with the Chinese in charge of it. Global thermonuclear war averted without even the need for tic-tac-toe.
At the last second, as the rocket is rising and the Chinese hackers are probably being executed somewhere for their failure, Brian looks deeply into Captain Ng’s eyes and decides, “Yo, howdy, it ain’t right we’re launching weapons into space; I’m going to blow it up!” So he calls his friend out at the Ka’ena Point tracking station and says, “Dude, send all that sonic info up there and blow it up.” Sonic means sound, but, weirdly, when friend says, “Sure, dude, I’ll send up a sonic blast of all sounds ever recorded and blow up a $100 million dollar satellite,” there seems to be a visual component because everyone’s computer monitors are suddenly alight with random shots from old television shows. Don’t ask me. I have no idea.
The sonic blast works, the satellite breaks apart, nothing happens to Brian for destroying a zillion dollar project, except now Captain Allison “I’m a fighter pilot!” Ng is now in love with him. Two days later, everyone who matters finds out there really was a nuclear weapon on board and that the whole project was an attempt by Mr. Welch to become lord and master of lower earth orbit so he could do whatever it is lords and masters do, which probably if you have a nuke at your disposal involves blowing people up.
The satellite comes apart without exploding (I guess the sound wasn’t that bad after all), so somewhere out there must be a nuclear bomb doing whatever all the other trash out there is doing–waiting until gravity wins.
Throughout the movie there is a bizarre love storyish thing going on between Brian and his ex-girlfriend, the ex-girlfriend and her very stressed out husband, and Brian and Captain Ng.
Captain Ng is an absurdly-drawn character. Her role is to host Brian as he liaises between the USAF, Welch’s private space company, and the King. Of course these hostessing roles always to go F-22 pilots, right? I mean, what else would an F-22 pilot have to do but escort some private-sector guy around Oahu for a week or two? My best guess is that the Air Force has an entire staff of people trained in wining and dining visiting contractors and therefore has no need to take skilled and valuable pilots off their training for such work.
Also (and granted, I don’t personally know any F-22 pilots), my guess is that the women who fly combat aircraft for a living don’t flit around like this particular woman does here. She’s ditzy and perky. I may be wrong, of course. Maybe you can get a Hello Kitty flight suit like this girl obviously wishes she had. (Apologies to Right Stuff flying women if I’m wrong about this and you’re all sitting around comparing nail polish colors.)
I liked the look at authentic Hawaiian culture, the mention of menehunes, mana, Pele and Lono, kahunas, the 1893 overthrow, and so on.
I disliked the ending immensely. Short version: turns out Brian is the biological father of ex-girlfriend’s daughter, but ex-girlfriend has never told anyone, including her husband. In the final scene, Brian stands outside daughter’s hula school watching her. She sees him. He nods knowingly. She dissolves into tears and runs out to throw himself into his arms. Because, apparently, when you’ve never told anyone at all this very confidential news of who the Real Father is, you suddenly decide to tell your daughter who is 13 and who is completely bonded to her Actual Father who has raised her. Or perhaps no one told her and she just sensed it from seeing Mom’s Stalky Ex-boyfriend hanging out at the hula halau.
The whole thing is a tangled mess. I didn’t even get to the part where the General (Alec Baldwin) says–two days after the explosion–“Man, you’re actually a hero for exposing this.” Because that doesn’t happen. When you expose something big you shouldn’t know about, you have to quick run to another country and hide there even after everyone has acknowledged you did the right thing. Save your money. Don’t see this movie.