Even though it was a top grossing film, 1988’s Cocktail is sometimes passed over when Tom Cruise movies are discussed, or even films from the decade. But is it a bad ’80s film? I am no way saying it deserves to be placed aside the upper tier films like Return Of The Jedi, Top Gun, Batman, or Raiders of The Lost Ark, but it should be argued into a second level film of one of the more entertaining flicks of the time. Not only is it an all time favorite film of mine, but let’s look at why the film should be looked at again in terms of one of the underrated flicks from the 1980s.
- The Cast.
Films are only as good as their actors, and Cocktail has several stars in it. Tom Cruise playing Brian Flanagan is not only the star (in name and character), but his character is 1980s. Coming out of the Army, Brian heads back to New York to conquer the world and “make a million” as he states in the film. After being turned down by all types of jobs, he stumbles into a local bar and works as a bartender. He gains success under the mentor of Doug Coughlin (played by Bryan Brown) , a man with witty life rules and becomes his best friend.
The duo talks about making money and while Flanagan thinks, at first, the college degree is what makes someone successful, Coughlin scoffs at the education system and states the path to success is behind the bar in New York. After a dispute with Coughlin, Flanagan lands in Jamaica, where he meets Jordan, a waitress from New York on vacation, played by Elisabeth Shue, who comes off as likable from the very beginning with her attractive smile and charming personality.
Without spoiling the film’s ending, the ’80s lifestyle attitude of achieving all the money one can, along with greed and a party lifestyle was what the decade was spotlighted on. Shue, coming off Adventures in Babysitting (you can read my review here in the archives by typing into the search engine), was also known as the love interest in The Karate Kid film in 1984, and after this went into the second and third films of Back To The Future. Yes, at the time she was cast as the girlfriend in most films, but she was in some of the great movies of the 1980s and helps make the film as wonderful with her humor throughout the film with some of her one liners. Cruise was riding high at the time after Top Gun and The Color Of Money, and was Box Office gold at this time, so having a major star as the lead character , stretching his acting skills into the drama genre, was a another plus for the movie, with his female fans being attracted to the movie. Brown, Cruise, and Shue are also joined by Gina Gershon (who also went on to have a nice film career) and an appearance from Paul Benedict from The Jeffersons fame. One has to have a strong cast for the debate of a great film, and Cocktail check marks that box with a strong group of actors.
- The Music.
The movies in the 1980s did not just have to have a great movie script, but many times the music in the film helped drive the success in sales. The Cocktail soundtrack is filled with songs from The Fabulous Thunderbirds (“Powerful Stuff”), Starship (“Wild Again”) and 1960s covers by current artists like John Mellencamp (who records a Buddy Holly cover of ” Rave On”). Two of the most famous songs were Bobby McFerrin’s “Don’t Worry, Be Happy,” and ” Kokomo” by The Beach Boys, both which were number one hits in the U.S. and charted high worldwide. One can’t have a film that is partially on the beach without the legendary Beach Boys, and the music on the soundtrack is used throughout the film to help the scenes, either at a dance club or at the bar itself. The movie features a few other songs that was not on the release for added pleasure of the audience (how does not enjoy the bar singing along to Robert Palmer’s “Addicted To Love”?) , and the soundtrack itself was near the top of the charts in many countries. The songs mix nicely in the film without being a distraction and mixes classic songs while being upgraded to not sound dated and makes the audience sing along during the viewing experience..
- The Film’s Morality Ending.
Without giving away the ending of the film, the film is more than just a young kid wanting to score money and throwing bottles up in the air. Will young Flanagan get his money making the windfall of cash that he desires, or does he realize that money is not going to buy his happiness? One spoiler in the film is that Flanagan does end up dating a wealthy woman, as does Coughlin, but what happens to them when they do? Are they happy with chasing money over what is “true love” and “happiness” in life?
The movie may not have been written to be a morality play such as Faust, but the viewers are showcased to a look at the 1980s ideals of what success is (especially for movie fans who did not grow up in the 1980s).
- It’s Just Fun To Watch.
Cocktail isn’t just a drama piece, but it has humor (“Coughlin’s Laws” as mentioned before , and Shue’s Jordan character ‘s one liners towards Coughlin) , along with dazzling scenes with Cruise and Brown showing off the fancy bar bottle tricks. There isn’t really a slow spot in the film, and the breath taking scenes of Jamaica adds to the background of the story. There are sandy beaches, the beautiful waterfalls, along with the excitement of the hustle and bustle of New York and Toronto used for the city scenes. The connection between Doug and Brian brings an added friendship to the story between boss and employee that turns into being best friends. Even if one thinks my number three point is reading too much into the movie, it is a fun, overall ’80s watch. It’s not deep into politics (as say Cruise’s Born On The Fourth of July) , nor is it an outrageous journey like The Goonies, but Cocktail is just plain enjoyable.
Cocktail, to me is not only in my top 3 all time favorite films (I can separate choosing my FAVORITE films verses my picks of the BEST films objectively), with The Wizard of Oz and Grease as my others in the top 3 favorites, but it combines a complete viewing experience with solid stars, acting , and a musical soundtrack that adds to the flavor of the film (and can argue the music is one of the co-stars in the movie). This is one film I never get tired of watching (and can quote many lines from it), and revisit it many times a year.