Shitty Movie Sundays: Cocktail

Cocktail movie posterHere’s another entry from the aborted Tom Cruise month, written back when I still lived in NYC:

What a putrid mess. Cocktail, the 1988 film from director Roger Donaldson, is about a bartender in New York City with big dreams. That’s just about every bartender in this town, at least before reality sinks its teeth in and, all of a sudden, a bartender’s 30s are looming large. I have a feeling that a large number of those involved in this flick have spent time slinging drinks. How in the world they screwed up a movie about a bartender is beyond me. But, Cocktail is only about a bartender in that the main character tends bar. It’s also a romance, and, near the end, takes a very dark dramatic turn that didn’t fit the film at all.

Tom Cruise plays Brian Flanagan. Brian just finished a hitch in the army and returns home to Brooklyn. Brian has a bit of an inflated opinion of himself. It’s hard to think of another explanation because, after he returns, he decides he wants a job on Wall Street so he can make a million bucks. Brian has no college degree or work experience in finance, but that doesn’t stop him. I’m actually impressed he managed to get job interviews. But, as anyone, anywhere, would expect, he doesn’t get a gig. As he’s walking along in Manhattan after his latest rejection, despondent, he notices a help wanted sign in the window of a bar, and is hired by cantankerous career bartender Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown).

Coughlin reminds me a lot of the middle-aged bartenders I used to work with back when I was in the business. Slick, good-looking, caddish, untrustworthy, in an abusive relationship with alcohol and himself, from overseas…yeah, this guy is definitely a 40-something New York City bartender.

Brian and Coughlin, after a rough start, become the hot new bartending sensation in the city. They toss bottles, read poetry, and take a long, long time to mix their drinks. But, this flick is just a show, after all. Who wants to watch what it’s really like to be a bartender deep in the weeds on a Saturday night? In this film’s fantasy, bartenders are performers that patrons come to see. Customers are not there to drink. Nope. They want to see the crusty Australian and the young kid with the killer smile ply their trade.

Then, drama rears its ugly head, and Coughlin betrays young Brian, causing a rift that extends from the Upper East Side all the way to Jamaica. There in the Caribbean, while healing a sorely bruised ego, Brian meets Jordan (Elisabeth Shue), and this movie’s tenuous portrayal of the bar life is no more.

How are Brian and Jordan going to fall for each other? How will Brian screw it up? How much chaos will Coughlin’s reappearance in Brian’s life cause? All questions the film raises, yet I didn’t care if any of them were answered. This flick marches on towards its inevitable final act but if any viewer is still hooked by this time, then they have much more patience than I.

Cocktail might be one of the most stylistically 1980s movies I’ve ever seen. It’s right up there with Ferris Bueller and The Karate Kid. There are lots of neon signs, and blue and purple lighting. The music is atrocious. The only thing missing, which is really bizarre considering the film is about bartenders in NYC, is cocaine. But, style is all this film has, and even that isn’t done well. The movie ends up being no more than filmmaking by rote.

Brown and Shue were decent in their roles, but this was one of Cruise’s weaker efforts as an actor. Donaldson seems to have given Cruise permission to use more of his boundless energy than other directors. There is nothing understated about his performance. He overacts his way through every scene, displaying the emotional complexity, along with all the typical peaks and valleys, of a toddler.

I don’t have much more to say about this film’s quality, other than that it is easy to spot where the filmmakers had to go back and do reshoots. That’s the only explanation I can think of for why Cruise’s hair lengthens and shortens by about an inch and a half from scene to scene, and sometimes shot to shot. We out here on the other side of the screen aren’t supposed to notice stuff like that.

I knew going into this month of Cruise reviews that there would be films here and there that were a waste of time. Cocktail is one of those films. It tumbles down the Watchability Index, displacing Battletruck at #184. Stay away.

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