It’s hard to believe that “Cocktail” is now nearly 20 years old. But there is the baby-faced Tom Cruise looking all cocky and svelte on the cover of the DVD. “Cocktail” was one of those inextricable hits earning more than $78 million in 1988. It solidified Cruise as a box office sensation.
Yet, amazingly, “Cocktail” is a terrible film. Woe begotten in nearly every phase of film making: writing, directing, acting and even cinematography (Has Jamaica ever looked so listless on film?). But “Cocktail” somehow manages to transcend its awfulness. It’s so damn bad that it’s difficult to take your eyes off the screen. It reminds you of the limbo: How low can it go?
That’s the beauty of this shattered glass of a film. It wants so badly to say something important about the excesses of the 80s while embracing that mentality at the same time. So it becomes one giant contradiction of itself.
On the surface, the movie is about an ambitious, but impatient young man who doggedly goes through several trials and tribulations before finally becoming a success by staying true to himself. Oh, and here’s the kicker, he’s a bartender.
The plot is a meandering affair. The movie opens with a young Cruise and his Army buddies chasing after his bus after his enlistment is over. It’s unclear why Cruise is former Army because it has no bearing on the plot and nor do his “buddies” ever return. There’s really no middle to the film – just an extended center – and the movie ends with a mixed message about materialism. In that it might be a good thing indeed.
The film badly wants us to love Cruise, playing the character of Brian Flanagan. He’s supposed to be the huggable rapscallion. Unfortunately, the movie fails to deliver and gives us Brian Flanagan – the scumbag.
Really. He’s an asshole with no redeeming qualities whatsoever (with the possible exception of his grin). He’s a lazy, impatient, disloyal, and materialistic braggart. He's also a drunk (yet despite making Flanagan a heavy drinker, the film never gives him a hangover). He’s under the spell of a bigger and louder bastard, Doug Coughlin (played by Bryan Brown).
Coughlin is supposed to be the philosopher king of bartenders spouting off nuggets like “Coughlin's Law: Anything else is always something better” or “Coughlin's Law: Bury the dead, they stink up the place.” But in the end he’s just a cynical hustler.
Flanagan drops out of college because of his late nights of bartending and drinking. He’s bored with it anyway and falls back on his greatest talent – flipping liquor bottles over his shoulder before pouring a drink. His primary goal is now hooking up with a rich woman who will finance his dream of owning a single’s bar.
Flanagan is also a whiner. After a romantic sequence with Elisabeth Shue’s Jordan Mooney where they make love on the beach, swim in a tropical lagoon, shop along the sun-splashed Jamaican coastline, make love a second time next to a bonfire, and then sip rum punch at sunset, Flanagan complains about being unsatisfied with his life. Um. Earth to Flanagan. You’re living in paradise! With Elisabeth Shue!
You learn all you need to know about Flanagan’s character when at the height of
He says this, mind you, with a straight face.
The best part of the movie is also the worst part.
It turns out:
The scene when Flanagan breaks into
Perhaps we can blame the 80s for “Cocktail.” It revels in the excesses of the decade (and even has many of its cheesy hits as a soundtrack. “Addicted to Love” anyone?). The keys to enjoying this wooden, plot-less affair are to let go and just let the ridiculousness take you for a ride.
Marvel at the shlocky dialog (Cruise actually utters this line: “Days get shorter and shorter, nights longer and longer, before you know it, your life is just one long night with a few comatose daylight hours”). Wonder at how Cruise manages to keep a Cheshire Cat grin going through the entire movie (his jaw muscles must have been killing him). Ponder at Elizabeth Shue’s pathetic performance (she has the worst dialog in the film and her character is nothing but a one-dimensional plot device).
But most of all wonder why anyone would go to a bar where the bartenders take more than five minutes to mix one lousy cocktail.
And then celebrate the cop-out ending where “Cocktail” celebrates greed as Brian Flanagan’s lone quality – and the one quality that finally gets him his singles bar.