30 years later, ‘Cocktail’ still a glass half empty

Published July 29 2018

Love, hate or ignore Tom Cruise these days, can we all agree on one thing? His 1988 flick Cocktail was as refreshing as a shot glass full of … pickle juice maybe? (Is there something worse than that? Let's not find out.)

Released on July 29, 1988, Cocktail has maybe aged more gracefully than a bottle of MD 20/20, which isn't saying much. Truth be told, the tale of a daydreaming bartender was a project critics hated it from the start. Cocktail maintains a lethal 5 percent "fresh rating" on Rotten Tomatoes thus raising the question: Someone actually liked it?

Actually, I liked it. Still do. Is it a perfect movie? Noooo. Is it the very model of a guilty pleasure flick from our beloved decade. Yes, come on, admit it! Let's look at it a little more closely at the pros and cons.

THE CAST: Cruise and Elizabeth Shue have zero romantic chemistry. But when's the last time Cruise had chemistry with anyone? Let's face it: Bryan Brown is the savior here at the wise Douglas Coughlin, bartender and philosopher. Cocktail is worth it alone for Brown and his "Coughlin's Laws" of wisdom. "Beer is for breakfast!" "The luck is gone, the brain is shot, but the liquor we still got."

THE PLOT: A ex-service man wants to make big in the Big Apple, but turned away for this lack of real-world experience, he pays the pills by becoming a bartender to the city's elite. Straight of the 1930s or '40s, wasn't it? Heck, pick any decade. Cocktail is a sum of its many, many parts – none of them at all original. "There is not a moment in the movie's last half-hour that is not borrowed from other movies," critic Roger Ebert lamented in his review. And yet, that's Hollywood. They borrow, borrow, borrow and oh heck, just steal. Why? Because it's a formula that works. Were you not rooting for Cruise and Shue to reunite, marry and open a bar by the end? Of course, you were. Cheers.

THE MUSIC: Complicated thoughts here. Let's get this out in the open: No '80s fan can rightfully claim to love Kokomo by the Beach Boys by this point. There are rights and wrongs in the world, but surely we can all agree this is a universal wrong. The rest of the tunes are a true mix of classics from the golden age of rock sitting next to some of the '80s less-fortunate tunes by the Georgia Satellites, Robert Palmer and Bobby McFerrin.

THE EYE CANDY: Like other would-be classics of the decade (St. Elmo's Fire comes to mind), Cocktail is all about image over substance. Cruise flashes the smile. Brown flashes a crooked grin and Shue flashes … well, she flashes Tom. Set in Jamaica, the island scenes are concocted to seduce – that's one mission that wasn't impossible.

THE INTANGIBLES: Ah yes, the love of a guilty-pleasure usually rests with the intangibles. There's a bartender insider each of us who is one step away from making it big with their own personal "flugelbinder." That's what gets us through the great adventure of life. We can't deny young Mr. Flanagan his dream. Instead we recognize the contentment that comes at realizing he's arrived with his own evolved version of the big success story. And yeah, at least the drinks are on the house.

Also In This Section