May 17, 2011

Cruise, with flair

Have you ever had the experience of knowing what people are going to say before they say it? If you haven’t, go check out Cocktail, the new Tom Cruise movie. You’ll be spouting the dialogue ahead of the characters.

This trick has nothing to do with clairvoyance. It has everything to do with dorky screenwriting, of which Cocktail has an abundance.

The premise takes a young go-getter, played by Cruise, who arrives in New York with a lust for success. Fate, however, has a bitter lesson in store for this young pilgrim, as he can’t get in the door on Wall Street and instead lands a job as a bartender in a singles bar.

His guru is a worldly mixologist (Bryan Brown) who dispenses Cuervo Gold and street wisdom in equal doses, disdaining Cruise’s college career and slapping the bar as he declares, “You couldn’t find a better work-study program than right here.”

Cruise finds false love, bounces down to a bar in Jamaica, finds true love in the form of a vacationing waitress (Elisabeth Shue), loses true love, and get hooked up with the kind of “rich chick” that Brown always advised him to find. But when Cruise and the woman (Lisa Banes) return to New York, he discovers that all he does is fetch her carrot juice in the mornings. And that, my friends, is a handful of dust.

Cocktail is a morality play, dressed in flashy colors and fronted by Hollywood’s premiere boy-hunk. Like Wall Street, it delivers a familiar lesson in the value of personal happiness over material wealth, a lesson that seems to be making a return in the late 1980s.

It is a mostly vacuous two hours, with screenwriter Heywood Gould providing his characters with some by-the-numbers dialogue. Cruise to his sugar mommy: “I tried to sell out to you, but I couldn’t close the deal.” Cruise to Brown’s sexy wife: “I can’t make it with my best friend’s lady!”

That Cocktail is occasionally dumbly enjoyable has to do with the cast and with director Roger Donaldson’s instincts. Donaldson directed last year’s No Way Out, but he can’t come up with a companion piece to that film’s steamy limousine scene. Here, a scene with sex under a waterfall is just your basic sex-under-a-waterfall scene.

Cruise isn’t exactly an actor yet, but at least he seems to want to be an actor, which is something. Bryan Brown, the Australian actor who starred in Tai Pan, brings some underpinnings to his role. And Elisabeth Shue, of Adventures in Babysitting, is always nice to watch—I am probably in the minority on this, but I think she’s prettier than Tom Cruise.

First published in the Herald, July 1988

Sadly, perhaps the last time I used the word “mixologist” in a review. This is a really terrible film, and Roger Donaldson’s participation is mystifying. In its own way, this is as representative of the 1980s as any film out there, and Cruise’s dedication to studying and perfecting the art of “flair bartending,” which he seemed to do with as much commitment as his research for, say, Born on the Fourth of July, is somehow depressing. I could expand on this, but I think I’ll go fix a drink.