Cocktail (1988)

<strong class="MovieTitle">Cocktail</strong> (1988)

(In French, On Cable TV, December 2018) I’m not sure when “peak Tom Cruise” actually was, but there’s no denying that his late-1980s popularity following Top Gun was off-the-chart. Most of his projects back then (and still now) banked on his charisma. Cocktail certainly makes a lot of mileage with Cruise’s boyish charm: Here he plays an ambitious young man initially taking up bartending to make ends meet while working toward a business degree. But when his showy bartending earns him more attention than he knows what to do with, it leads to a break-up with his mentor, romantic entanglements and many more money-related complications. It gets very melodramatic very quickly, and the result is a mess that doesn’t quite know what tone to aim for. To be fair, there are a few great moments of the film, especially in the first half as the 1980s atmosphere is most visibly deployed and as the flair bartending style gets a lot of attention. But those moments of greatness probably work against Cocktail as a whole, especially once we’re off to increasingly unlikely and grandiose plot development that suck whatever energy the film was able to create in those moments. I suspect that Cruise’s presence in the film ended up creating part of the atonality problems: Cruise being Cruise, any film producer would want to give him a flashy part, a big smile and a happy ending, whereas a smaller-scale movie with a lesser-known lead actor probably could have delivered a rougher, more authentic drama about the ups and downs in the life of a bartender. Who knows? What’s obvious, though, is that the film doesn’t quite work as a seamless whole. The plot gets more arbitrary, and it feels stuck between down-and-dirty intentions and its star’s megawatt personality. Cocktail doesn’t mix well, and the result can be dumbfounding when seen thirty years later.

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