Cocktail – 1988

Director Roger Donaldson
Screenplay Heywood Gould based on his book
Starring Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown, Elisabeth Shue, Kelly Lynch, Lisa Banes, Laurence Luckinbill, Gina Gershon, Ron Dean, Ellen Foley

Cocktail came out in a time where I had enough money to waste. This didn’t mean I had enough money I wanted to waste on Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Shue with bad perms. I got the soundtrack with one of those music clubs 13 CD’s for a penny. It was worth every cent. My wife was surprised to discover it as another on the short list of movies that she loves and I hadn’t wanted to see. This is on the shorter list of movies I could have lived without seeing.

The story is uneven. Brian Flanagan (Cruise) is just out of the service and he is clueless. From his house in Queens, he applies for and is rejected by numerous businesses on Wall Street. He needs a degree, they say.

He finds a job slinging drinks at a bar near the money center of the world. He is taken under the wing of Doug Coughlin (Brown). Coughlin shows him many tricks and has a lot of trite sayings. They grow close and become a team while he continues his education. They get big enough to be noticed and they start to make plans.

The plans fall apart. He quits school, Coughlin seems to betray Flanagan, and Flanagan heads down south to Jamaica for a fresh start. This is where he meets Jordan (Shue). They strike up what seems to be a solid relationship.

The film’s editing problems start becoming prominent at this point. The story feels of two minds. One is the trajectory of Brian and his career. The other, almost incidental story is the romance. The film doesn’t know which way it wants to go and it feels like it settles for junk.

The writer, Gould, had written a much darker take on society at the time of the mid to late 80’s. Cruise came on board, the movie got more money for the budget and more light is brought in to his character. Disney didn’t like the original takes and almost 1/3 of the film is subsequently refilmed.

The finished result is part performance bartending (never knew it was a thing til then), part buddy movie and part relationship drama. None of the parts work all that well. Cruise has speeches that seem uneven and completely random. Shue decides to just roll with whatever he says. Brown and Lynch feel like much of their motivation and character is on the cutting room floor.

What works, for the most part, is the soundtrack. Most people remember The Beach Boys’ insipidly catchy Kokomo, and its saccharine equal, Don’t Worry Be Happy by Bobby McFerrin. Lesser known tasty tracks like All Shook Up by Ry Cooder, Hippy Hippy Shake by The Georgia Satellites, and Powerful Stuff by The Fabulous Thunderbirds. Preston Smith’s Oh, I Love You So, John Mellencamp’s cover of Rave On and Robbie Nevil’s Since When round out a great set of songs. They’ve all aged a bit, except for Cooder, the Thunderbirds, Satellites and Mellencamp’s songs.

Essentially, this film feels like a good set of opportunities to match scenes with songs. Some of them work, others do not. Extra points if you can keep from shaking your head when you listen to the completely silly climax between Cruise, Shue and the supposed adults in the room. I’ve never seen Luckinbill this bad, and I have seen Star Trek V.

The biggest culprit here is whoever decided to go away from telling a story and shoehorned in a completely contrived romance. I don’t know if the pleas for love could convince anyone outside of the cast…and my wife.

See it if you want to see the kind of film Cruise made before he completely took control of his career. It’s not worth sitting through otherwise, just to hum along.

(** out of *****)

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