For a while—before the Church of Scientology grabbed hold of him—Tom Cruise was in a zone. Like John Wayne and Elvis Presley before him, he was cast in films that showcased an onscreen persona that repeated with only slight variation from film to film. In Cruise’s case, it was that boyish charm, the flirtatious smile, the carefree fun-loving free spirit, the maverick, and the man who was still an adolescent-at-heart, needing to grow up.
“Cocktail” fits the mold exactly, and because it’s a light and fluffy drama with comic moments you could call it a guilty pleasure. As a film, it always reminded me a little of “Roadhouse,” though slightly more gentrified. There’s the mentor (bouncer/bartender) who takes on a protégé, and of course something bad has to happen to the mentor, for how else is the young padawan going to rise to that position of power? Only I just don’t ever recall stepping into a T.G.I. Friday’s anywhere that felt as much like a rowdy roadhouse as the bar where young Brian Flanagan (Cruise) takes a part-time job in order to help pay for the college classes he’s taking. Brian is just out of the Army, though a beer bottle has more bulge than his biceps and his haircut is hardly regulation. He has hopes and dreams of making it big, and the screenplay gives him a chance to explore and redefine what “making it big” means . . . and, of course, it gives the quintessential Tom Cruise character the chance to grow up.
Bryan Brown (“Gorillas in the Mist”) plays Doug Coughlin, master of the NYC bar scene and a showman of the circus sort. Soon he’s teaching Brian how to do all kinds of bottle flips and catches, sleight-of-hand rotations, and long and short “pours.” It’s all about the showmanship, he tells his young student. Impress the girls and you’ll get them or their boyfriends’ money. And New York is the place where an opportunity can drop into your lap on any given wild night.
I don’t know of any bartenders who drink as heavily as these two, but the scenes in crowded bars where they work their shake-it routines are as fun as any of Elvis’s nightclub numbers or The Duke’s fistfights. But the ‘80s hair and shoulder pads aren’t the only things that are cheesy. Some of the lines qualify, and the plot—a romantic drama—features a number of scenes that border on melodrama. Again, that’s what makes a film like this a guilty pleasure. It’s entertaining in spite of itself.
A sex-magnet like a very young-looking Cruise in character (just five years after “Risky Business”) draws all sorts of attention, and he finds an appreciative lover (Gina Gershon), a wide-eyed romantic (Elisabeth Shue), and a rich older woman who tries to keep him as a trophy (Lisa Banes). And mentor-cynic Doug finds what he’s been looking for (Kelly Lynch) . . . but be careful what you wish for.
“Cocktail” isn’t a deep film and it isn’t populated by complex characters. They’re all pretty one- and two-dimensional. But thankfully each of them has a decent arc, and a side plot involving Shue’s character adds interest when its needed the most. Really, though, it’s the bartending antics and musical backdrops that make the film entertaining. Without them, “Cocktail” is just another beer gone flat.
For an ‘80s title “Cocktail” looks good in 1080p, a marked improvement on the DVD. It’s presented in 1.85:1 aspect ratio and transferred to a 50GB disc using the AVC/MPEG-4 codec. There’s considerable grain and some noise, while the color saturation levels seem to vary based on the lighting or interior/exterior conditions. If there are any artifacts as a result of the transfer, I didn’t see any.
The audio is similarly solid, but not spectacular. When the music gets cranked up and the guys do their bartending antics the soundtrack comes to life. Otherwise, dialogue dominates and there really isn’t much in the way of ambient sounds emanating from the rear effects speakers. The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1, with additional options in French and Spanish Dolby Digital 2.0 and subtitles in English SDH, French and Spanish. The bass has some presence during the heavy music scenes, but otherwise, like the ambient sounds, it yields to a largely front-heavy audio track.
Surprisingly, there are no extras. Not even a trailer—unless you count previews for other Disney films (and I don’t).
“Cocktail” stuck me as fluff that’s still entertaining back when it first came out, and it still plays the same way. Like formulaic Elvis flicks it’s typical Tom Cruise, and for Cruise fans that was (and remains) enough.