Nostalgia and a liking of Tom Cruise is a powerfully misleading mixture, one that numbs the senses and dims the memory. So when I was flicking though the channels the other night and found Cocktail I thought…why not!
1989 was the year this mix of late eighties bullshit and bad shirts hit the UK, and for this then thirteen year old and his older brother it meant endless re-watches to rival the frequency of the worn out VHS tape of Predator.
Re-watching now, that awesome Arnie vehicle easily holds up as a classic, the same cannot be said for this early Tom Cruise offering that sits as a remarkably dated reminder of how awful films can be when viewed as an adult many years later.
My brother and I thought Tom was the dog’s bollocks and we both had a liking for Elizabeth Shue so Cocktail was an instant hit for two oblivious teenagers. I actually think it also inspired my bro into moving into bar work and influenced a phase of wearing very dodgy clothing.
Shit shirt alert!
Anyway…the movie; It doesn’t hold up well at all.
Cruise plays Brian Flanagan a talented bartender trying to get ahead in the greedy eighties, but without the credentials to get into marketing he pays his way by bar work to get through college. He starts to work for bar owner Douglas Coughlin (Bryan Brown) who teaches him all he knows about being the best bartender and attracting the richest clientele to their bar. Brian travels to Jamaica to earn some bigger dough to work in his own bar where he falls in love with the holidaying Jordan (Shue).
What is striking about Cocktail now (as an adult) is not so much the often awful acting and dialogue but just how unlikeable everyone is.
Just like it’s slim and ineffective musings on eighties greed most seem only focussed on attaining wealth on the back of someone else and the paper thin charm and lingo is no longer as influential as it was on an impressionable lad.
Unsurprisingly, Brian sees the error of his money-oriented ways and then it all turns into a hum drum and unbelievable romance. The sentiment is at least well-meaning in that the pursuit of happiness doesn’t necessarily depend on wealth, but by the point of redemption for Cruise’s striving guy the damage is done in making him in the most part deplorable in his quest for the ultimate rich chick that’s a disgraceful sentiment that’s as pretentious as the vast majority of this now seemingly pointless film.
The required heartbreak moments pass with little drama or care when it feels like deserved comeuppance for a pretty shallow bunch.
It’s not a total fail; Jordan hides a secret that goes someway to correct the notion of total materialism and when nostalgia grabs hold again you can’t help but love those shirts and Cruise’s awkward bottle tossing antics, not to mention Bryan Brown’s constant bar tender philosophising and hilariously (bad) quotable lines.
The script is as predictable and as contrived as expected but there is banter in Cruise and Brown’s generational buddying that somehow amuses in its cocksure arrogance.
What it all means is nothing really; Cocktail is empty headed entertainment that’s a sign of its materialistic times. With twenty plus years of movie viewing since and even if a part of me still likes Cocktail, that eighties neon bar fizz has gone flat.
By the end, Brian sees his youthful folly (hooray for Hollywood); now, I have too.