Cocktail (1988)
Directed by Roger Donaldson

Artistic & Entertainment Value
* ½

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Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise), an avaricious young man who has just been discharged from the military, takes a job as a bartender while trying to figure out how he can enrich himself. Later, after he has a fight with his new best friend and fellow bartender, Doug (Bryan Brown), Brian relocates to Jamaica, where he meets Jordan (Elisabeth Shue) and begins to fall in love with her.

Roger Donaldson's Cocktail is so dull and hackneyed that there is relatively little I can say about it. The narrative is entirely formulaic and predictable. The acting ranges from mediocre to atrocious, and, visually, the movie is utterly uninteresting.

The film's characters are particularly painful to watch. All are either nasty or contrived, and, as a consequence, not one of them is engaging. Brian, for instance, is such a smarmy, materialistic creature that he is absolutely repulsive. The other characters may not be as irritating as is the movie's hero, but that is only because they so forgettable. Both Doug and Jordan are more tools by means of which the story is advanced than individuals. Donaldson thus initially presents Doug as a likeable scoundrel and then exposes how hurtful and obnoxious the character really is. He even tries to bother the moviegoer by showing how that villain prospers when he marries a wealthy woman. Apparently, he does all this only in order to build tension and, later, to create a sense of satisfaction when he depicts Doug's inevitable comeuppance. Jordan is even more of a non-entity. She exists only to provide an object towards which Brian can direct his affections. Sadly, their romance is consistently prosaic. There is not any part of it that the viewer will not be able to foresee.

What is more, the director's efforts to make his vile characters likeable are so juvenile, so clumsy, and so false that, rather than allowing the viewer to involve himself with Cocktail, they are more likely to annoy him. There are, however, a few times when Donaldson's ham-handedness may make the moviegoer laugh. In one scene, for instance, after the director has revealed that Brian is a completely generic and vacuous person, he has Jordan mention how unique her new boyfriend is. Perhaps her line was meant to be sarcastic, but I do not think it was.

Lastly, I should note that the performances of the leads are never able to add any appeal to the nasty, superficial persons they are playing. While Brown and Shue are just unmemorable, Cruise is agonizingly wooden. I actually felt a little embarrassed for him when I was watching the film's opening scenes. After a moment's reflection, however, I felt sorrier for those who, for whatever reason, had had the misfortune to see the actor's performance.

There really is nothing good to say about Cocktail. It is just dreadful.

Review by Keith Allen

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