For the past two months or so, Cocktail, a 1988 film that stars Tom Cruise as a bartender with big dreams, has been on an almost daily cable rotation. A few nights ago, my sister Megan and I sat down and watched the film from beginning to end and we laughed ourselves silly.
Seriously, if there’s ever been a film that deserves to be known as a guilty pleasure, it’s Cocktail.
Cocktail tells the story of Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise), an apparent sociopath who, having just gotten out of the army, is now determined to become a millionaire. During the day, he takes business classes but at night, he and his mentor Doug (Bryan Brown) are dancing bartenders. While customers wait for drinks, Brian and Doug do the hippy hippy shake and toss bottles up in the air. The crowd loves them and Doug educates Brian on how to be a cynical, opportunistic bastard. (Myself, I didn’t think Brian needed any lessons but the film insists that he did.)
When Brian and Doug get into a fight over Gina Gershon, Brian ends up in Jamaica where he eventually meets both Jordan (Elisabeth Shue) and Bonnie (Lisa Banes) and has to choose between love and money. (Guess which one he goes for…) Gee, if only there was a way that Brian could get both love and money…
Why is Cocktail such a guilty pleasure? Just consider the following:
1. Cocktail is an example of one of my favorite guilty pleasure genres. It’s a film that attempts to give an almost religious significance to a profession or activity that, in the grand scheme of things, just isn’t that important. Hence, Tom Cruise and Bryan Brown aren’t just bartenders. No, instead, they are the linchpin that New York nightlight revolves around. If not for the talents of Cruise and Brown, we’re told, thousands of people wouldn’t have a good night. And then who knows what might happen. They might go to a different bar and they might get served by less rhythmic bartenders. Chaos and anarchy might be break out. The living would envy the dead. Fortunately, the super bartenders are there to save the day. (Just consider the film’s tagline: “When he pours, he reigns!” Really?)
2. In the pivotal role of Brian Flanagan, Tom Cruise gives a performance that seems to hint that the character might be a sociopath. Whenever he speaks to anyone, he flashes the same dazzling but ultimately empty smile. Whenever he feels that anyone is failing to treat him with the respect that he deserves, he responds with child-like violence. When he drags Elisabeth Shue out of her apartment, he looks over at Shue’s father and snaps, “It didn’t have to be like this!” It’s a line that makes next to no sense unless you consider that Brian is a pathological narcissist who is incapable of empathy. ”It didn’t have to be like this,” Brian is saying, “except you dared to question me so now I’m going to kidnap your daughter…”
3. In the role of Doug, Brian’s mentor, Bryan Brown gives perhaps one of the most openly cynical performances in film history. While everyone else is earnestly reciting the script’s platitudes and trying their best to sound sincere, Brown delivers every line with a hint of resignation and an ironic twinkle in his eye. It’s as if Brown is letting us know that, of the entire cast, he alone knows how bad this film is and he’s inviting us to share in his embarrassment. But Bryan Brown need not worry! The movie may be bad but it’s also a lot of fun.
4. Brian and Doug become New York nightlife sensations by doing an elaborately choreographed dance as they mix their drinks. The other people in the bar absolutely love this, despite the fact that it seems like all the dancing would mean that it would take forever for anyone to actually get a drink.
5. While bartending, Brian also takes a business class that is taught by one of those insanely elitist professors who always seem to show up in movies like this. When he returns student papers, he doesn’t just pass them out. Instead, he literally tosses them at the students while offering up a few pithy words of dismissal. Seriously, this guy has to be the worst teacher ever. No wonder Brian would rather be a bartender than a student!
6. After having a fight with Doug, Brian somehow ends up working as a bartender in Jamaica where he suddenly starts speaking with a very fake Irish accent. The Jamaica scenes serve to remind us that — despite the fact his great-great-great grandfather did come from Dublin — Tom Cruise is one of the least convincing Irishmen in the history of film.
7. In Jamaica, Brian meets and falls in love with Jordan (Elisabeth Shue) but, because he’s a sociopath, Brian cheats on her with Bonnie (Lisa Banes), who is a wealthy TV executive. Bonnie brings Brian back to New York with her but, unfortunately, it turns out that Bonnie and Brian don’t have much in common beyond Bonnie wanting a young lover, Brian being young, Brian wanting a rich woman to take care of him, and Bonnie being rich. What’s particularly interesting about these scenes is that the film doesn’t seem to understand that Brian is essentially coming across like the world’s biggest asshole here. I think we’re meant to feel sorry for him but all we can really think about is how Bonnie could do so much better.
8. Around this time, Bonnie drags Brian to a museum where Brian ends up getting into a physical altercation with a condescending artist. It’s at this point that the audience is justified in wondering if Brian has ever met anyone who didn’t eventually end up taking a swing at.
9. But guess what! It turns out that not only does Jordan live in New York but she’s actually rich as well! And she’s willing to forgive Brian for being a sociopathic jerk. Unfortunately, Jordan’s father objects to his daughter running off with a sociopathic bartender so Brian — as usual — reacts by beating up a doorman and then literally dragging Jordan out of her apartment. One scene later and Brian and Jordan are suddenly married and Brian owns a bar of his own. Where did Brian get the money to open up his own bar? Who knows!? At this point, all that’s important is that the movie is nearly over and, in order for there to be a happy ending, Brian must both be married and a bar owner. That seems to be the film’s message: “Just stay alive for two hours and the film’s script will be obligated to give you a happy ending whether it makes sense or not.”
10. Brian is not only a bartender, he’s a poet! And, amazingly enough, bar patrons are willing to put aside their desire to get a drink so they can listen to their bartender recite poems like this:
” I am the last barman poet / I see America drinking the fabulous cocktails I make / Americans getting stinky on something I stir or shake / The sex on the beach / The schnapps made from peach / The velvet hammer / The Alabama slammer. / I make things with juice and froth / The pink squirrel / The three-toed sloth. / I make drinks so sweet and snazzy / The iced tea / The kamakazi / The orgasm / The death spasm / The Singapore sling / The dingaling. / America you’ve just been devoted to every flavor I got / But if you want to got loaded / Why don’t you just order a shot? / Bar is open.”
Seriously, how can you not enjoy a film like Cocktail? It’s just so totally ludicrous and melodramatic and, best of all, it seems to have absolutely no idea just how over-the-top and silly it really is. Both Tom Cruise and Elisabeth Shue seem to take their roles so seriously that you seriously have to wonder what film they thought they were making.
Cocktail is the epitome of a guilty pleasure.
Previous Guilty Pleasures:
- Save The Last Dance
- Every Rose Has Its Thorns
- The Jeremy Kyle Show
- Invasion USA
- The Golden Child
- Final Destination 2
- The Principal
- The Substitute
- Terror In The Family