‘…the unquestioning attitude of the film to his arrested development in terms of women is less than impressive…’

Roger Donaldson’s film about the romantic escapades of a bartender was a critical dud back in 1988, but this particular teenager loved it. Why? It was the Tom Cruise factor; when I was a teenager, he was a role model that learned to do stuff; ride motorbikes, fly planes, pour drinks. As long as Tom was learning something, he was our guy, a surrogate whose success rubbed off on our own motivational thinking. Returning to it as an old friend in 2020, the effect was….not so much.

Brian Flanagan (Cruise) comes out of the army, although there’s little about his character that suggests military training. Brian doesn’t know what he wants to do, but he wants success. Studying for a business degree doesn’t push his buttons, but Brian falls under the influence of Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown), who shows him how being a NYC bartender can help you get the girls and make a tonne of cash. They two become some kind of celebrity bartenders and go into business together, but Brian finds another level of success when he falls for rich-girl Jordan Mooney (Elizabeth Shue), but will her posho family’s disapproval scupper their plans?

Cocktail has a laid-back soundtrack (Kokomo, Don’t Worry, Be Happy), which I used to play while honing my own personal skills by throwing (empty) bottles in the air. But there’s not much cinematic about pouring drinks, even with the souped-up montages featured here, and Cocktail gets dragged down by the drama. The conflict with Coughlin is intermittent, and while there’s a bitter punchline, it doesn’t feel sufficiently earned; the original writer Heywood Gould felt that Disney/Touchstone ripped the knitting out of his original idea. And Brian’s real skill is performance poetry, which makes for some big scenes for Cruise, but doesn’t quite fit with his business acumen and blue-collar profession; he’s a soldier/businessman/bar-tender/lothario/romantic poetry expert? No wonder I was a confused teen with Cruise as my role model…

Cocktail’s big scene, where Brian rallies against Jordan’s family, still sings, but the unquestioning attitude of the film to his arrested development in terms of women is less than impressive. Cocktail is slick as snot as a film, and still works, but the main character’s development isn’t smart enough to put it in the top-rank of the star’s work, which developed greatly beyond this point. Link below.


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  1. I would probably only watch this movie if Edge of Tomorrow somehow time travelled into it and Cruise shoots himself to save the world. Other than that, I don’t see this being something I’d look at, even in passing.

    • It’s a forgettable film, looking at it now. Seemed like a big deal when I was a teenager, but lots of things that seemed like a big deal then feel less essential now…

    • As a movie, no great (hippy hippy) shakes, as a study of mixology, it’s a total loss; not real technique other than throwing bottles in the air…

  2. Crazy ain’t it? How some films left an impression when one was younger and have now lost exactly that appeal, well at least somewhat, for which you liked it back in those days😊
    I’ve seen this film ages ago, but can’t remember a lot about it. Since I don’t drink any alcohol anyway, I’m not in a huge rush to watch this one again😊

    • Yup; films about writing rarely work, since there’s nothing to show visually, and films about drunkeness similarly don’t work because the viewer is outside the experience. The kind of drinking shown here is very much adolecent style; not to be tried at home, or even in the pub. Rarely drink myself these days, and was a strict non-drinker when I saw this first time around….

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