At 25: “Cocktail”

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July 29, 2013 by billysparrow



Released: July 29, 1988

Starring: Tom Cruise. Bryan Brown, Elisabeth Shue

It happens less and less every year, but I am still fairly regularly faced with the question, “So, why don’t you drink?” I feel like I am disappointing people when I tell them that there’s no real reason. I suspect they want something deep and meaningful that could explain why a grown man would deprive himself of alcohol. And if I had something deep and meaningful, I would gladly share it. But there’s just been nothing I could pinpoint as the main reason why I steer clear of alcohol.

Now that I have rewatched “Cocktail,” however, it’s all starting to make sense.

The first thing that struck me upon revisiting the world of “Cocktail” is that the opening credits indicate that the movie is based on a novel. Well, there’s something I wouldn’t have expected. “Cocktail” doesn’t really strike me as a literary work. But it was, in fact, originally a novel by Heywood Gould. And it is a novel that I am now quite interested in reading to see how it stacks up against the film version.

“Cocktail” starts off like a movie that is begging me to love it. Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise) comes to New York on a Greyhound (hey, I ride those!), through what looks like it might be Jersey City (hey, I live there!), arrives at the Port Authority Bus Terminal (my home away from home, which looks completely the same as it does 25 years later), and goes to his uncle’s bar, where a New York Islanders banner is proudly displayed. It as is if the filmmakers conducted a focus group asking what they should put in the movie to grab my attention in 25 years. And if they did so, nice work, focus group!

Soon, though, my interest starts to flag. And this coincides directly with the scenes in which Flanagan and his mentor, Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown), show off their bottle-twirling skills behind the bar. But God bless the filmmakers (do we need to name them? It seems better that we don’t), they try their best to keep me invested, going so far as to set the homoerotic alcohol hurling to a song by the Georgia Satellites.

OK, that worked. I can watch that scene without wanting to run out of the room screaming. But the “Addicted to Love” scene? Well, that’s where my pleasant relationship with the filmmakers goes away.

Seriously? That’s what people in Manhattan would choose to do in 1988? Go to a TGIFriday’s, watch two douchebags dance and throw booze around, and sing along to Robert Palmer? No thanks. I would rather, well, do anything else than that. And even if I did want to do that, it seems like it would take an hour and a half to get my damn drink at the pace they’ve established. And what if I just wanted a beer? What wacky dance routine would our gyrating duo go through for that simple task?

And it gets worse. When Bryan and Doug are hired by a patron who wants to hire them to work in “the hottest saloon in town,” the douchebaggery rises to epic proportions. Their shift at this new establishment, Cell Block (which I am reminded of every time I step into Terminal 5 in Manhattan), may in fact be the very reason I don’t drink.

Two things: (1) If that’s what it takes to get Gina Gershon, maybe it’s not worth it after all and (2) that looks like a nightmare. A horrible, terrible nightmare from which I awake covered in sweat, punching the walls, and crying like a newborn infant. Even now, a few days removed from watching “Cocktail,” I half-expect to wake up in the middle of the night screaming, “Turquoise blue!”

After this scene, the filmmakers know I am starting to drift away (and not in a pleasant, Dobie Gray kind of way). So they know it is time to call in the big guns. And there is no bigger gun, of course, than Elisabeth Shue (well, maybe Nicole Eggert, but she would’ve been 15 at the time of filming, which possibly would’ve made the film even creepier). And not just Elisabeth Shue, but Elisabeth Shue naked! Or at least assumed naked, which is, many say, the worst kind of naked. Why must Tom Cruise block our view? (clip should be so much more NSFW, but I guess it’s NSFW enough).

The song in that scene (Jimmy Cliff’s “Shelter of Your Love”) somehow didn’t make it on one of history’s finest soundtracks, which included, of course, both Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy” and the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo.” But here is something I didn’t realize until rewatching the movie: those two songs are featured within two minutes of each other. What an exciting two minutes of music and film history, no?

Anyway, back to Elisabeth Shue. She’s purty. And when she starts to only pop up briefly in a few scenes (and never again almost naked), I start to lose interest. The filmmakers decide at this point that it is just not worth the effort to woo me any further. They have done all they can do. So, instead, and here’s a SPOILER ALERT (do you have to say that when a movie is 25 years old? Or when it’s “Cocktail”?), Doug kills himself in a pretty messy way (he seems to have cut his jugular with a bottle, which, ironically, is probably what I would’ve done if I spent five minutes in Cell Block). That sure grabs your attention. And it leads to “Cocktail”‘s most dramatic scene, and Tom Cruise’s Oscar moment.

Sadly, “Cocktail” received zero Academy Award nominations. It did, however, take home two coveted Razzie Awards for Worst Picture and Worst Screenplay. So that’s something. And “Kokomo” was nominated for a Golden Globe, though it lost to co-winners “Let the River Run” by Carly Simon and “Two Hearts” by Phil Collins. On a side note, I am legitimately stunned that one of its fellow losing nominees was “Twins,” sung by Little Richard and Philip Bailey. But we’ll get to “Twins” in a few months. Let’s say goodbye to “Cocktail” first.

I applaud “Cocktail”s filmmakers’ efforts to get me to enjoy their film both at whatever age I was when I saw it (I’d guess 13, since I definitely didn’t see it in theaters) and at the age of 36. They tried to let the music sway me at 13, and thought far enough ahead to put in things that would appeal to the 36-year-old me. They are to be commended for their efforts, unsuccessful though they might have been.

More importantly, they should take a well-deserved bow for making bars look so thoroughly unappealing that I have hardly had a drop of alcohol in my life. And now, when people ask me why I don’t drink, I can look them right in the eyes and with the utmost confidence say, “Cocktail.”

And if that’s not enough for them, I can just scream, “Turquoise blue!”

They’ll understand.


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