Cocktail
Blu-ray ALL - America - Touchstone Pictures
Review written by and copyright: Anthony Arrigo (22nd September 2012).
The Film

I have really got to hand it to Tom Cruise. After hitting it big with “Risky Business” (1983) his star power continued on a trajectory that would one day make him the biggest movie star on the planet. Although that distinction wouldn’t come until the early 90's, it’s clearly evident that Tom was pretty much already there once “Cocktail” (1988) came out. He had to have been, because there’s no other way to explain how a film with so little substance could storm the box office unless the onus was placed squarely on Cruise’s diminutive shoulders. I’ve seen some “fluff” films before, but I can recall few whose success was in direct opposition to the substance, or lack thereof, contained within. The film, based on Heywood Gould’s book of the same name, plays like one long Travel Channel special, with Cruise and Bryan Brown playing the part of a couple bartenders with a skill for flair and a penchant for philosophy. Sure, it’s fun, it’s flashy, it’s full of good looking people, however, once you stop soaking up the excesses and try viewing the film in a more critical light, it falls flat on its face. At least the view from down there isn’t so bad…

Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise) has just left the Army and moved to NYC, where his uncle owns a bar. Brian is eager to make a name for himself in the marketing field, but quickly strikes out when he learns that without a degree, no one will even give him the time of day. With no options, he turns to what he also knows nothing about: bartending. And wouldn’t you know it, but walks past one of the hottest joints in town, which just happens to be hiring. The proprietor, Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown), is a hotshot with a fancy for flair, and soon he has Brian learning all the hottest tricks of the trade. The two even make plans to open their own bar someday, but a rift is created when things get ugly after they both sleep with the same woman. Brian, taking advice he got from Doug, hightails it to Jamaica, where he can live cheap and make lots of money behind the bar. He hopes to score big after a few tourist seasons, but things get complicated when he falls for one of the guests, a young girl named Jordan (Elizabeth Shue). Things are looking up, but Brian manages to ruin a good thing, leaving him to run back to NYC for a shot at both reconciling with his girl and pursuing his dream of opening one of the city’s hottest establishments.

I would love to live the life of Brian Flanagan. Here’s a kid, fresh out of the military, who moves to the most expensive city in the world, gets a job bartending and – BAM – he’s seemingly set for life. Where does Brian live? Who cares! It’s never made explicit, but I think what happened is that he got into town, dropped off his bag at his uncle’s, and now he just bops around town screwing hot women (like Gina Gershon) and crashing at their pads. We never see his living situation, which isn’t of paramount importance or anything, but it sets a precedent that his life is all about the glamour and excitement, not things that we regular folk have to deal with. For example: money. Brian laments his new career as a bartender, he clearly thinks it’s a position that’s beneath him, but it also affords him the ability to up and travel to Jamaica, where he lives like a goddamn king sucking tips out of tourists and banging anything with an ass like an apple. And then – this kills me – he laments his life! Oh, poor you. It must be very tiring making daiquiris on the beach during summer season on the islands. Well, to be fair, Brian seems like he’s enjoying his life until his old buddy Doug pops up, with a wife (Kelly Lynch) who’s as loaded as she is smoking hot. Seriously, I remember Lynch from “Road House” (1989), but I did not recall her having such a rock hard body, with abs for days and an ass that could make a grown man cry. Hell, I might even start to get a little jealous too, until I woke up and realized my life is equally as awesome.

The real problem I had with the film was that there’s nothing resembling cinematic tools such as conflict, character development, strife, and there’s a barely-earned resolution that feels forced and contrived, only put in place to satisfy audiences. The film only decides it wants to try being heavier once we near the end, and by that point it doesn’t feel earned. Everything up to a certain point is nothing but a good time. Flanagan lives a life that most people would kill him dead for, yet he still does his best to put on a scowl and act like life is so rough. It feels like the screenwriters stopped somewhere near the end and thought, “Shit! We’ve got to put SOMETHING in here to add complexity to the story.” And, so we get a few clichés (pregnancy, suicide, yadda yadda) before wrapping things up just as you thought they would.

I’m sure it sounds like I don’t like the film at all, but I have to admit I found the atmosphere intoxicating. Cruise and Brown have great chemistry, and the scenes where they’re working together are among the film’s best. As I said earlier, Cruise was already on his way to becoming a mega star and the reason is simple: he’s a very good actor. Opinions on his abilities can vary wildly, but I’ve always stood firm by the fact that Cruise can act. Very well, in fact. There’s a scene between him and an older woman he was playing boy toy to, and when they have a fight outside an event she slaps him in the face. Cruise’s reaction to that slap was the most genuine moment in the film, and a firm indicator that he has the chops to carry a film. It’s minor, but I felt the pathos. “Cocktail” is the film world’s equivalent to a stereotypical blonde – not a lot going on up top, but it can be fun to look at.

Video

Is this supposed to look so ugly? Yikes. “Cocktail” shows its age with a 1.85:1 1080p 24/fps AVC MPEG-4 encoded transfer that looks like something someone scraped off the streets of NYC. For starters, right from the get-go the opening titles are bathed in grain so heavy it could be considered noise (although I know this can be caused by the opticals). Once the picture kicks in, things don’t get much prettier, with pervasive grain intruding on the image every chance it gets, especially every time it gets dark. Oddly enough, the black levels aren’t nearly as washed out as I was expecting, but that’s a minor silver lining. Drab as it may look, I can somewhat forgive the dour appearance by chalking it up to photographing NYC in a less than favorable light, but how the hell do you make Jamaica look bland? Once the film skips over to the tropics, I was expecting things to brighten up in every possible way. They didn’t. There’s just no “pop” to the colors. There’s virtually no fine detail here, either. Hell, there’s barely any detail at all. Sharpness levels vary wildly from scene to scene, but they tend to look best in sunny shots on Jamaica.

It’s not entirely a wash. There are some bright spots. Brian and Doug bartend in some ritzy NYC establishments, and some scenes are awash with pastel and neon so bright you’ll think they stumbled onto the set of “Miami Vice” (1984-1989). As I said, some of the Jamaican scenes do look proficiently shot, with some good locations full of lush, tropical scenery appearing so inviting I was tempted to ditch my own job and live like a king down by the beach. I think that, similar to the film itself, this was shot with a no frills, no fuss attitude. It hasn’t been manipulated by any DNR or other such digital nonsense, so you’re getting the raw, unvarnished image, which I suppose should be seen as a positive. This isn’t a title you buy to demo your system anyway, so fans of the film should be satisfied, if not a tad underwhelmed, by the presentation.

Audio

Despite presenting viewers with a lackluster video presentation, the audio end of this disc isn’t half bad. “Cocktail” shakes things up with an English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround sound track mixed at 48kHz/24-bit that does well in capturing the essence of an 80's film. The soundtrack, which was a hot commodity in its day, is rife with hits of the period. And, luckily, they sound great in lossless audio. Every track takes full advantage of the sound field offered, giving listeners an immersive experience that puts you right in the mix. Bass notes, in particular, have a warm, robust quality that will have your subwoofer humming for a good portion of the duration. There’s a scene a little over halfway through the film that takes place during a concert in Jamaica, and the sound is just about perfect. It felt like I was there enjoying the show. The score itself, composed by J. Peter Robinson, is full of great synch cues. A quick glance at his IMDB resume shows he did some of my favorite late-80's horror films, so it’s no wonder I’d enjoy his work here. In the same year he did this, he also did work on “Return of the Living Dead Part II” (1988). Awesome.

Outside of the music, there’s really not much activity going on here. Dialogue and other sounds are generally confined to the front speakers, leaving the rears to collect dust until another song kicks in. At least everything is well balanced, so you won’t miss any of Coughlin’s Laws or Cruise’s various one-liners.

French and Spanish 2.0 Dolby Digital stereo tracks are included. Subtitles are available in English for the hearing impaired, French and Spanish.

Extras

Hey, this is a Tom Cruise film, so they’ve got to at least include some supplemental features here, right?

Wrong. So very, very wrong.

We get zilch, zip, nada. Unless you count bonus trailers… which I do not. Hell, they didn’t even include the trailer for the film itself. Instead, we get the following in 1080p:

- “The Odd Life of Timothy Green” runs for 2 minutes and 11 seconds.
- “John Carter” runs for 59 seconds.
- “Anti-smoking PSA” runs for 30 seconds.

Packaging

The single 50 GB disc comes housed in a keep case. At least they kept the original poster art, though I can’t say it’s very exciting or enticing.

Overall

I’m guessing this is usually a film best enjoyed by women after a few rounds of the title, but most anyone who has an affinity for all things 80's, or the acting abilities of one Tom Cruise, will find this to be an easily digestible bit of eye candy.

The Film: C Video: C+ Audio: B Extras: F Overall: C