Movie review: ‘Cocktail’

OK, so “Cocktail” isn’t a very good film. In fact, it racked up many bad reviews that it won some “worst” awards, but, on the other hand, it was in the top 10 moneymakers of 1988. So, you shouldn’t give in to your first instinct and discard it completely. It is called an enjoyably bad film to watch by the founder of “The Razzies” but the best part is that Elisabeth Shue single-handedly elevates this one to “watchable” from “don’t ever watch it.” Fresh off “Adventures in Babysitting” (click here for my review), Shue gives the film some integrity. You certainly wouldn’t want to pattern anything in your life after these people, but it is a fun trip back to the 1980s. Check it out!

(1988; 104 minutes; rated R; directed by Roger Donaldson and starring Tom Cruise, Elisabeth Shue and Bryan Brown)


(NOTE: I expanded this review with some more opinion and trivia and updated links on June 3, 2018.)

I wrote in a review how John Travolta, despite mixed commentary and criticism about his life and philosophy, almost never fails his audience because his films are almost all very watchable. I’ll pass along the same judgment on Tom Cruise (as if he would care or matters in any way to him), who continues to pile up watchable films as a solid actor. “Cocktail” is not his best effort or film, but along with Elisabeth Shue manages to help make this one OK. Sometimes that’s a good review in and of itself.


Cruise is on cruise control on this one with exception of one scene (I’ll get to that later), but his usual is better than many. With Shue doing so well and a wonderful performance by Bryan Brown, “Cocktail” isn’t the complete stinker it all too easily could have been. The supporting cast is sparse here only because the three principal characters have so much screen time, but there is strength down in the list of credits.

In “Cocktail,” Cruise plays “Brian Flanagan,” who’s a young man just out of the military and looking to hit it big. He tries Wall Street firms (it’s laughable – he has no financial experience but notes that he reads “the Journal”) but cannot get his toe in the door, much less his foot. By happenstance he sees a bartender-wanted sign and, with only little experience from his uncle’s establishment, gets a job with Brown, who plays the would-be mentor “Doug Coughlin.” Cruise then becomes, along with Brown, the hottest bartender in Manhattan and his dreams expand.

During the day, Cruise is going to college but, through a stereotyped clash with a professor, you know he’s going to go a route other than education. (Yes, you’ll have to suspend some serious disbelief here … but it’s worth it.) Cruise and Brown begin plans to open their own bar – basically by going to tend bar in the Caribbean during tourist season to fill their pockets with start-up capital. However, Brown poaches Cruise’s girl and the two buddies have a fight.

Cruise winds up in Jamaica and meets and falls in love with Shue, who plays “Jordan Mooney.” They have a torrid affair but it falls onto the rocks when Brown resurfaces and manages all too easily to goad Cruise into the arms of another woman (one with money). Say goodbye to the Tom and Elisabeth romance! Soon, Cruise is back in New York living as a kept man. He doesn’t stay that way and tries to win Shue back. He finds out she’s both pregnant and rich and the ensuing drama ends with them being together (although Brown’s fate takes a different direction).

The film’s saccharine ending is just one of the many failings of the film, but you cannot just judge on its bad points. Take a look at a few things – such as Cruise’s excellent scene reading a letter from Brown at the end – that work well and you can skip over the flaws. I’m not sure, but this could have been a better dark drama than what’s presented here. But, then again, you wouldn’t have the breezy song “Kokomo” from “The Beach Boys.”

Here are your headliners:

  • An Oscar nominee (not for this one), Shue is watchable here as the honest and intelligent woman who wants to deal with Cruise on very clear terms. She is in her fifth movie (the first after her headlining “Adventures in Babysitting”) and you’ll remember her best as the girlfriend in “The Karate Kid.” Shue would earn her nomination for a very dark, gritty role in “Leaving Las Vegas” with Nicolas Cage. She’s also been in “Behaving Badly” and has been on TV’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation.” I also liked her in “Hollow Man” with Kevin Bacon.
  • While I like Shue’s effort better, I do have to admit that Golden Globe nominee (not for this one) Brown notches a more powerful and solid performance in this one. He’s completely in love with himself and maintains his character with aplomb right to the point that everything is in ruins. Brown was better in “F/X,” but “Cocktail” is close. Brown’s efforts in those two do not even come within shouting distance to meeting his turn in “Breaker Morant” from 1980, a critically acclaimed film that is little-remembered. He has also been in “Gorillas in the Mist.” His nomination wsa for TV’s “The Thorn Birds.”
  • As I wrote earlier, a three-time Oscar nominee (not for this one), Cruise is on cruise control here. He makes it look so easy to be endearing, passionate and emotional that you forget it does take talent. Cruise takes his character from eager-beaver would-be executive to “flair” bartender (the flipping bottles and glasses, etc.) to a kept man to finally a husband. Although the stereotypes and sugar-coated ending detract enormously, Cruise is ultimately watchable here. The three-time Oscar nominee’s most remembered films include “Risky Business,” “Top Gun,” “Jerry Maguire” and “A Few Good Men.” He was nominated for “Jerry Maguire,” “Magnolia” and “Born on the Fourth of July.” I say Tom got screwed for not being nominated for an Oscar (he should have won) for “Rain Man” opposite Dustin Hoffman, who did win. Cruise was much better than Hoffman’s vastly overrated performance in that one – I just don’t believe anyone wanted to admit it. “Rain Man” came out the same year as “Cocktail.”

On what’s left worth comment on the supporting front:

  • I believe Kelly Lynch was miscast here as “Kerry Coughlin,” the rich woman who marries Brown and then tries to seduce Cruise. I liked her effort much better in “Road House” with Patrick Swayze and maybe it’s because she’s a bad girl here. I cannot think of another actress better suited, but Lynch doesn’t bring much to the role and you forget her work the instant she’s off screen. Lynch has also been in “Curly Sue” and the film version of “Charlie’s Angels.”
  • Gina Gershon plays “Coral,” the woman who is first Cruise’s girlfriend and then who winds up in a fling with Brown that destroys the men’s friendship (at least for a time). I’ve never thought much of Gershon’s work (such as in “Red Heat” with Arnold Schwarzenegger or the roundly reviled stripper flick “Showgirls” with Elizabeth Berkley) and this one doesn’t change my mind. She’s just so-so and has also been in “Face/Off” and “The Insider” and her career isn’t worth mentioning further.
  • Ron Dean plays Cruise’s “Uncle Pat” here and he really does a nice job. His part isn’t big, but he has important things to say to Cruise and delivers like other supporting actors do not accomplish. Dean has also been with Cruise in “The Color of Money” and he has been in “The Fugitive” and was the wrestler’s father in “The Breakfast Club.”
  • Laurence Luckinbill plays “Richard Mooney,” who is Shue’s father here. He’s the rich man who wants to keep Cruise away from his daughter. Again, here’s another workmanlike job by a very competent actor with a role with little screen time and no chance to elevate the character. Luckinbill has worked mostly in television, but has also been in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and “The Boys in the Band.”

I don’t know what to make of director Roger Donaldson. Of course, “Cocktail” isn’t a good film, but he did the very good “No Way Out” with Kevin Costner. I’d say the cheesiness of “Cocktail” isn’t completely his fault, but I don’t believe the film appears very high on his resume. He’s also directed “The November Man” and totally mismanaged the unnecessary remake of Sam Peckinpah’s “The Getaway” with the talentless, overrated and incompetent Alec Baldwin. Peckinpah, he is not – that’s for sure.

Cocktail” was the ninth ranked film at the domestic box office in 1988 with $78.2 million in ticket sales, according to Box Office Mojo. On a budget of $11 million, “Cocktail” would go on to make $171.5 million worldwide, according to Wiki. Just to show Cruise’s bankability, he also had the No. 1 film at the box office that year with “Rain Man” at $172.8 million. It doesn’t take a doctorate to realize that people shell out money to see him on screen. Here are the other films from that year that I’ve reviewed:

Assorted cast and notes (via

  • Cocktail” was nominated for a Golden Globe – unsurprisingly, it wasn’t for acting, but for Best Original Song for the Beach Boys’ “Kokomo.”
  • I know it sounds stupid, but Robin Williams was considered for the Cruise role. I’m not dissing the late comedy actor in any way, but that sounds like potential miscasting of the highest note.
  • Also considered for the “Brian Flanagan” role were two complete different actors: Charlie Sheen and Jim Carrey. Jim Carrey? Charlie Sheen? Well, Charlie wouldn’t have been right, but Jim would have been laughable – which wasn’t the intent of the character. Good work, filmmakers for not casting either one.
  • Other names in consideration reportedly included Keanu Reeves, Tom Hanks, Rob Lowe, John Travolta and Bill Murray. Bill Murray? Keanu, for God’s sake? Now I believe someone was just picking out names and trying to get PR for the film.
  • Finally on the casting front, someone reported that Mr. “Jump the Shark” himself Ted McGinley was considered for the “Brian Flanagan” role. Now you’re talking truly and utterly ridiculous.
  • Directly from “The movie was nominated for four Golden Raspberry Awards including Tom Cruise for Worst Actor and Roger Donaldson for Worst Director. The film in the end won two Razzies, for Worst Picture and for Worst Screenplay.”
  • The movie is taken from a novel of the same name by Heywood Gould – and he wrote the screenplay. The book was based on his experiences as a bartender in New York.
  • Finally and directly from “’Only about 24 minutes of the movie’s standard 104 minute running time is actually set in the exotic Caribbean vacation location of Jamaica, for which the picture is famous, particularly from the film’s popular ‘Kokomo’ song track music-video tie-in by The Beach Boys. Approximately eighty minutes of the movie is set in New York City’s Upper East Side of Manhattan.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014, 2018.
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