Movie review: ‘Cocktail’

cocktailOK, so “Cocktail” isn’t a very good film. In fact it racked up many bad reviews, but on the other hand it was in the top 10 moneymakers of 1988 and you shouldn’t 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,” 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)


I recently wrote in a review how John Travolta, despite mixed reviews about his life and philosophy, almost never fails his audience because his films are almost all very watchable. I have to pass the same judgment on Tom Cruise (as if he would care), who continues to pile up watchable films as a really wonderful 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 (with no financial experience but notes that he reads “the Journal”) but cannot get his foot in the door. By happenstance he sees a bartender wanted sign and, with his experience from his uncle’s bar, 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 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 Jamaica during tourist season to fill their pockets with start-up capital. However, Brown winds up with Cruise’s girl and the two 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 goads Cruise into the arms of another woman (one with money) and the relationship is over and 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 all the cool bartending action or the breezy song “Kokomo” from “The Beach Boys.”

Shue is good 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 go on to an Oscar nomination for a very gritty role in “Leaving Las Vegas” with Nicolas Cage. Most recently she was in this year’s “Behaving Badly” and has been on TV’s “CSI: Crime Scene Investigation” since 2012.

While I like Shue’s effort better, I do have to admit that Brown notches a powerful credit here. He’s completely in love with himself and maintains his character right to the point that everything is in ruins. Brown was better in “F/X,” but this one is close. The Brown effort that these two do not even come close 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.”

As I wrote earlier, 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, 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.”

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. 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.”
  • Ron Dean plays Cruise’s “Uncle Pat” here and is really good. 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.”

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 films from 1988 I have reviewed for this blog:

Assorted cast notes (via

  • 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. Luckinbill has worked mostly in television, but has also been in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier” and “The Boys in the Band.”

© Chuck Curry and A Gator in Naples, 2014.
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