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10 Degrees of 80s Movies Continues: Cocktail.

posted by Kristen and Mickey on 9/19/03

10 Degrees of 80s movies continues:

KRISTEN ELIZABETH: So, how do you want to do this?

VON HANGMAN. I thought one of us would have a turn at the computer, while the other one of us could work the blender.

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. Sounds OK. Do you want first go at the computer?

VON HANGMAN. No, I went first last time. You start it off. What do you want to drink?

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. Anything with a little umbrella in it would be fine with me, sugah. Or how about some mint duleps, if you can make them strongly alcoholic?

In the late 80's/early 90's, there were three movies that I thought I'd die if I didn't see.  "Dirty Dancing," Cocktail," and "Pretty Woman".  Unfortunately, being seven, eight and ten respectively when they came out, I was denied their viewing pleasure, and could only speculate on what delicious secrets were contained within them.  My limited knowledge of sex propelled my overactive imagination to come up with all sorts of ideas.  I mean, the title "Dirty Dancing" alone would make even the most innocent eyebrows raise, especially those of a child whose only experience with dancing up until that point was ballet and tap.

Unfortunately, as with so many other things, the reality of the forbidden pieces of our childhoods rarely lives up to our expectations as teenagers or adults.  We spend years counting down the days until we're old enough to do something, be it ride a particular rollercoaster, not have to eat our green beans if we don't want to, or watch a "dirty" movie.  But in the end, we get gypped.  For the long length of those four or five years we thoroughly convince ourselves that "Pretty Woman" holds all the answers to the romantic and sexual questions of the universe, only to find out that it's just Julia Roberts in a tight dress giving Richard Gere a hummer.

Sucky, sucky.  Five dollar.

Now, "Dirty Dancing" will always be at the top of my obligatory chick-flick top ten list, but still, upon seeing it for the first time at thirteen, I couldn't help but wonder what the big deal was. What was so scandalous that my mother wouldn't let me watch it for years?  Half of the "dirty" stuff went straight over my head.  It took me up until five years ago to figure out that when Johnny told Robbie to "put his pickle on everybody's plate," he wasn't talking about actual pickles.

I am a metaphor for so many things.

"Cocktail," or as it's known in most circles, "Tom Cruise's Movie Where He Plays a Jerk and Still Makes Women Swoon," was perhaps the largest of my life's let-downs, and I'm even counting Brad Pitt getting married to the annoying "Friends" chick.  (I was saving myself for you, Brad!!  But that's all over now!!!)

I first became aware of this movie by its soundtrack.  This was right around the time when a movie's soundtrack was becoming far more essential than the script, and "Cocktail" gave us a combination of "hard" rock, reggae rhythms and the unquestioned anthem of the 80's, "Don't Worry, Be Happy."  At eight years old, I wore out the damn record.  I'd lie on my stomach on the shag carpeting in my room, replaying "The Hippy-Hippy Shake" over and over again as I stared at Tom Cruise's 'come hither, little girl' smile on the album's cover.

Satan buys souls for so very little.

The movie came out onto VHS; my mom bought it right away and added it to her growing Cruise collection, an abomination that now takes up nearly two shelves in the video cabinet back home.  But I was not allowed to so much as touch it.  It was forbidden.

Why?!??!  Did my mother really think that watching Elisabeth Shue pull off her bathing suit underwater was going to scar me for life?  Or did she just want to spare her only daughter the pain of having to listen to dialogue like, "Get your fucking hands off her! She's pregnant!!"  (Apparently Tom Cruise has no problem with guys shoving around his not-pregnant women.  Watch out, Penelope.)

So, my first impressions of this movie at fourteen weren't exactly stellar.  But since I had let so much of "Dirty Dancing" flow over my head upon the first three or four years worth of viewings, when I got offered the chance to write this article, I figured I had better rent the damn thing again and see if maybe there were some hidden gems, or subtle nuances in Cruise's performance.  I invited two of my friends, Kim and Rose, over to my apartment, broke out a bottle of cheap wine, and gave it another go.  What I found out was simple.

There were no gems.  There was no subtlety.  "Cocktail" is just a spectacularly bad movie.

"Can we have it now?  Please?!?!"

Let me sum up the plot for you very quickly.  Tom Cruise wants to make a million dollars straight out of the army.  His character has an actual name, but it's not necessary to know, because it's just Tom playing Tom.  He gets turned down for a lot of jobs for his complete lack of education/experience, but does land one as a bartender.  He comes under the tutelage of the world's least sexiest Australian, and learns the finer points of flinging a lot of bottles around to make a martini look much more exciting than just a glass of gin with olives.  Everyone loves him.  At this point, Rose, who didn't enter the world until 1984, asked, "did people in the 80's do anything but hang out in bars?"  A very good question.  According to this

After his mentor screws him over, Tom retreats to Jamaica to slosh around alcohol in a much warmer climate.  There, he meets poor artist Jordan (Elisabeth Shue).  They have sex under a waterfall.  It sounds romantic, just like bartending sounds like it might be one of those rare professions that could turn out a good film, but "Cocktail" manages to make it seedy.  Way to go, movie.

The Aussie drunk shows up again, married to a woman in a million dollar thong.  He bets his old protégé that he can't seduce a rich woman.  This is the part where the movie hits its central theme.  Are you ready for it?  Here it is.

Men are stupid.

But we knew that already.

Because he simply can't turn down the bet, Tom wins over the old broad and gets the privilege of seeing her fall over with her legs in the air.  Unfortunately, Jordan spies her love carting the rich bitch off to do just that.  Needless to say, she doesn't see humor in the situation.  Fortunately, we do.

Tom returns to New York as the woman's American gigolo.  But he's unhappy, you see, because he feels used.  No way, buddy.  It's not the men who get used in this movie; it's only the woman.  Not even halfway through the film, the scores stands thus.

Tom Cruise:  three
Womenkind:  zip

He finds Jordan working at a diner, he breaks things off with his sugar momma, and demands that Jordan give him a second chance.  Because, you know, he's earned it.  He's Tom Cruise, for god's sake!!!  What more right does he need?  Jordan stands her ground just long enough to tell him that he made a teensy mistake under that waterfall, namely knocking her up.

He blinded me with cocktails.

Once more, we're hit with the "men are stupid" theme.  Tom actually asks her if the baby is his.  Woah!!  Okay, I am going to give all you guys out there a little lesson.  Never, ever, under any circumstances whatsoever ask a woman this.  I don't care if your girlfriend is a crack whore selling it on the streets; if she tells you that she's pregnant, just don't question it in front of her.  File for the paternity tests on your own time, curse her name to anyone who will listen, but at least spare her that one question.  You'd think that men would have figured this out eventually.  But they keep doing it!

Okay, to wrap this up quickly, Tom tries to get her back, finds out she's not a poor artist, she's really super rich, doubles, nay, triples his efforts to get her back, turns down a sexual offer from his mentor's wife, find his mentor after the guy shoots himself in the head, wins Jordan back, marries her, opens his own bar, and gets to live happily ever after.  Because he's Tom fucking Cruise.

This movie isn't entirely unlike Tom Cruise's life, if you think about it.  He wants to make money, he rises to celebrity entirely on the power of his dimples, gets involved with a hot woman, dumps her for a slut, and finds his life spiralling into a pile of shit.  Okay, maybe it's a little bit of a stretch, but is there anyone out there who truly believes that Tom didn't cringe just a little bit when Nicole collected her Oscar this year?  Especially when he glanced over and saw the Spanish skeleton sitting next to him.

"Soy bonita, si?"

"Cocktail" was kind of a layover for Tom on his plane ride to power, but I have to believe that it is a stop he regrets making.  C'mon, Tom, we all make mistakes.  I've worn white shoes after Labor Day; you made a movie about greed, sex and alcohol in the 80's.  Who didn't?  It's completely forgivable.  Now "MI:2," we'll talk about that some other time.

But these are just the thoughts of a girl who lost precious hours of childhood to the Beach Boys singing "Kokomo."  Mickey tends to be more diplomatic about movies.  Perhaps he has a better perspective on this flick. 

KRISTEN ELIZABETH: Dundee-baby, take it away!

VON HANGMAN. OK. Cheers. Glad to see that Bryan Brown is the world's unsexiest Australian, especially since he married Rachel Ward, who I used to have a big crush on. Since I am by definition sexier than he is, that's just got to be good news.

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. I could be persuaded to reconsider my ranking. Say listen, shouldn't I just put my name and contact details here, for the benefit of people who aren't going to bother to stick around to read your contribution.

VONHANGMAN. Go right ahead.


Brian (Tom Cruise) is a]. learning how to juggle with milkshake containers b). Using the Force c). applying Coughlin's Laws of Negative Positivism to the "glass-half-full, glass-half-empty" dilemma, or d]. witnessing the world's first helicopter journey by a jellyfish.

At around the same time that Tom Cruise was learning how to spin a cocktail shaker on his finger, in preparation for his role as Brian Flanagan, the hotdog Capitalist-Prince bar-monkey in Roger Donaldson's atrocious but entertaining “Cocktail”, my sister, Cairo, got a job working for one of a chain of stores called Wendy's in one of the suburban shopping malls in Brisbane, Australia.

What Australians call Wendy's isn't like what Americans call Wendy's. The Australian Wendy's is much more like what an American would call a Dairy Queen's. That is, Wendy's claim to sell ice-cream, although the oily looking substance that you purchase with some chocolate sprinkles or hundreds-and-thousands or strawberry sauce on the top is not what I would call ice-cream.

Anyway, Cairo got a pink pinafore, an identity badge (she chose the identity, “Tallulah”) and an education in the economics of oily ice-cream substitute. There is a technique to everything, even soft-serve ice-cream-cone presentation and it is actually really interesting. Cairo quickly learned how to serve two cones that appeared to have the same volume; but in fact one contained almost three times the amount of oily ice-cream substitute product. (The ideal Wendy's cone, from the point of view of management, contains about 120g of soft serve product, arranged into three coils and a twist).

In the movie, when Douglas Coughlan (Bryan Brown), officially the world's least sexy Australian, hires Tom Cruise, it looks for a moment as if “Cocktail” is going to offer a lesson in the techniques of bartending. The filmmakers underline the significance of the scene in question by cutting to it from a classroom where a professor is telling his class some mumbo-jumbo about economic theory, straight into Coughlan making the following speech:

“The essential technique of bartending [is]: less is more. The less you pour, the more you score. The boss does better. We do better.”

When Cairo joined Wendy's, she got a very similar pep-story from her manager. Coughlin goes on:

“We dazzle them with ice-work. We baffle them with bottle-work. There are many ways to fool a customer: the short-pour, the long-pour, the ice-mountain, the spring- thaw, the speed-rack-shuffle, the hot shot. You will learn them all.”

Brian replies, “Yes, Obi-wan,” but after this, everything we see for the whole of the rest of the film demonstrates the two of them are terrible barmen. The principle of “less is more” simply cannot be reconciled with the amount of alcohol they splash around every bar in which they work. It is not that they are being liberal towards their customers. They are just spilling a lot. They handle alcohol the way a pig might handle the mud in its sty, as something to be splashed onto every available surface. Ian Thorpe swims in environments that are probably less damp than any bar that Brian and Doug work behind.

The less you pour the more you score

Bryan and Doug are rewarded for being incompetent barmen by becoming improbably famous. Maybe if Cairo had gotten good at juggling ice-cream cones before serving them, and had tried pouring all the ingredients into a nut sundae at once, and had learned how to operate the chocolate sprinkler behind her back, and had smiled wolfishly at the customers flocking around to see her at work, she might have made a good subject for an 80s movie too. Maybe. It is, however, rather more likely that she would have been asked to hand in her pinafore.

Personally speaking, I feel sorry for people who are so starved for entertainment that they would be impressed by the sort of tricks with bottles Doug and Brian perform. Let's face it, the repertoire of what can be done with a bunch of bottles, an icetray and a cocktail shaker is pretty limited. When I am sitting in a bar, my aim is usually to drink myself quietly insensible. If I wanted to get drunk while watching a bunch of monkeys throw stuff up in the air and then catch it again, then I would take a hip flask to the zoo. But that is just me. I know there are bars that do employ people for their juggling skills, and more power to them, so long as the jugglers with cocktail shakers don't take about five minutes of working in synchronicity to produce two drinks, the way Brian and Doug do, in a manoeuvre that catches the eye of the proprietor of the hippest bar in the Apple, the Cell Block.

I suppose the idea of the cell block theme for a Masters-of-the-Universe watering hole was to provide an atmosphere where insider-trading types expecting to have to serve some time in custody could adjust gradually to a correctional centre ambience. Anyway, the talent spotting credentials of the proprietor are underlined by the fact that not only has this guy hired two of the sloppiest and slowest barmen in the history of recreational drinking, he has also hired the World's First Yuppie Poet as the entertainment for his nitespot. The WFYP makes some observations that briefly hold the all-time record for being the world's rottenest poem, before being overtaken for that title by Brian's “I see America drinking/ the fabulous cocktails I make.“ The earthquakes reported just after the original cinematic release of “Cocktail” in 1988 turned out to be less alarming than first thought. It was just Walt Whitman turning so violently in his grave that the disturbance was measurable on the Richter scale.

Douglas Coughlin. Founder of Logical Negativism. Flourished in the last part of the 20th Century. Propounded a series of laws that the world generally ignored. To its detriment. Liked to soak his hands in drinks before passing them to the customer.

Having made some general remarks about the movie, there are two things I want to say about the second act of “Cocktail,” where the action moves to Jamaica, and the third act, where the action comes back to New York.

My first obligation is to Elisabeth Shue, one of the loveliest and most likeable actors of her generation, who plays the role of Jordan, a piece of sexual candy that Brian picks out of the chocolate tray, samples, decides against, chooses another flavor, and then decides he prefers the first sort he tried after all and gropes around amongst the wrapping papers, looking for the piece of chocolate he took a bite from and then discarded.

In an interview with an English movie magazine in 1998, Elisabeth Shue said, of “Cocktail”, “If I had known it was just going to be these two guys throwing drinks around I might have had some second thoughts.” It is a nice quote because it reveals two things about Elisabeth Shue, 1). She is witty as well as beautiful; and 2) She doesn't read scripts before agreeing to appear in movies. I have always liked Elisabeth Shue a lot, and so I just wanted to take this opportunity to apologize to her for misspelling her name in my last post, where I considered her work in “The Karate Kid”.

Elisabeth, with an "S"

The other thing I wanted to do is go on and on about what a total asshole Tom Cruise's character, Brian, is throughout the second and third acts. Kristen has already touched on this, but, trust me, she has let him off lightly. To recap quickly, the action has moved to Jamaica where, for some reason, celebrity barmen are paid astronomical sums of money to pour drinks into people glasses, or, in Brian's case, onto the counter. When we last saw them, Douglas and Brian had had a falling out because Douglas had slept with Brian's girlfriend to win a bet. Now, however, Douglas has gotten himself married to Kerry, and this allows Brian and Douglas to strike a rapprochement.

Kerry is played by Kelly Lynch, who also starred in “Roadhouse” and a bunch of other movies. She gets in a couple of really good lines. Brian, Jordan, Douglas and Kerry have gone to a nightclub where some horrible music is playing. Kerry says, “I have never seen a club with such intense dance vibes.” I was still wondering to myself if that was meant to indicate to the audience that Kerry had never been to a nightclub before, when she follows up by saying, “C'mon, let's decimate this dance floor.”

I never like being dismissive of actor's looks, because hell, they're human, if you prick them, they bleed etc., but I have got to say Kelly Lynch looked better in “Roadhouse” than she does in “Cocktail” (I have a particular reason for saying this which will become apparent later in the post). Everything is relative. If Kelly Lynch, wearing the same hairdo and makeup as she has in 'Cocktail” were to appear in a C-grade porno movie alongside a bunch of aging hatchet-faced hookers, she would probably look comparatively good. However, having to share scenes with Elisabeth Shue, (who admittedly, would also have better stylists and make-up consultants later on in her career), and having to prance around in a thong for just about all of her scenes, took their toll on my tolerance.

OK, so Jordan starts to fall for Brian. And, at this stage, Brian doesn't seem to be too bad a person given that he is the standard young hot-dog type of character that Tom Cruise portrayed so often during that phase of his career, and, indeed, played in a movie as recent as “Vanilla Sky”. So, when they make love, it simply seems like the film is unfolding in a reasonably predictable manner. Only a fool would predict that the romance will run smoothly, but it would seem reasonable to predict that, while some misunderstandings are going to arise between the lovers, this will not be because either or them have genuinely acted with bad faith or maliciousness towards the other.

That is what you would think.

Minutes later on the digital clock measuring out the minutes of this cinematic masterpiece on the VCR, Brian is pouring drinks for his clique, including Douglas (wearing the same white suit that James Spader wore to the classroom in “Pretty in Pink”) and, as will occur whenever a bunch of knuckleheaded white guys sit around in a bar in Jamaica, the subject turns to pussy. The next thing you know, Brian has involved himself in a wager about whether or not he will be able to pick up a witchy-haired skank (Lisa Banes), sitting opposite, waiting patiently for the guys to finish up their conversation about beaver so she can be served. Brian, (our hero, who we have just seen getting romantically entangled with Jordan) sidles over to Witchypoo, and the best dialogue in the whole movie ensues.

WITCHY HAIRED SKANK [smoking long brown cigarette]. Vodka on the rocks with a squeeze of lime.

LAST BARMAN POET. No, no. This is the tropics. Please try a Jew d'Amour. It means, “Juice of Love”. It's made with fresh fruit, right off the vine. Trust me when I say it is nothing short of spectacular.

WITCHY HAIRED SKANK. Excuse me? Do I have “Fuck me” written on my forehead?

LAST BARMAN POET. I can't see a thing without my contacts.

Brian goes back over to the other side of the bar, where Doug chortles that “mighty Casey has struck out”. But Brian remains quietly confident, telling his pals, “The evening is not over yet. It wouldn't be any fun if they fell over with their legs in the air, would it?” And, indeed, before many more seconds have passed, the witchy-haired skank is making come-hither overtures to the Last Barman Poet that make it clear she will shortly be falling over with her legs in the air. Enter Jordan. She wanders into the scene just in time to see the barman she thought was her true-love closing his carnal deal with the skank. Rather understandably, in the circumstances, she looks a bit pensive, and as she sits there on the beach, dumped like so much flotsam, the romance theme from “Cocktail” (“Run for the Shelter of Your Love”) rises on the soundtrack, and that is the end of Act Two.

(DIGRESSION: Talking of the soundtrack, the appearance of the Beach Boys' song “Kokomo” gave that band their first hit for ages. Since the song came out, every time I have heard the name, Kosovo, on the news, which, unfortunately, has been far too often and usually in relation to stories of dreadful human suffering, that damn song starts up inside my head. I am like one of Pavlov's dogs starting to drool, only instead of slobbering, I am humming. Everyone must think I am an idiot to be humming a Beach Boys' song while everyone else is properly appalled at tragic events unfolding in the former Yugoslavia, and, since this seems to be totally out of my control, they may well be right. Also, my brother has a starter's cap which is signed “Love Mike Love”). /END DIGRESSION).

So, back in New York, things don't work out between Brian and Witchypoo and Brian comes across Jordan working in a greasy spoon. He begs for a chance to explain.

He says, he actually says, “It is not as bad as it seems.”

I sat up, thinking to myself, this is going to be good.

“You see, Doug landed a rich chick and that night he bet me that I couldn't do the same.”

See Jordan. It was NOT as bad as it seemed.

Brian continues: “ See, when a guy lays down a dare, you've just got to take it.”

That's true!

"Dude, I'll bet you $50 you can't plunge your country into shame with human rights abuses that will be a blot on the Twentieth Century." "You've just lost 50 bucks, Il Duce."

Then Jordan reveals to him that she is carrying his child and Brian starts questioning her about it. This was the moment I realized that Brian is essentially playing the same character as Robbie the Creep in “Dirty Dancing,” only this time around the story is being told from his point of view. This made sudden sense out of all those “make yourself a millionaire” economic self-help books that Brian is always reading.

The Fountainhead

So Brian the Creep wanders off to decide what to do about his impending fatherhood.
In a conventional script, he would probably have decided to do the right thing, and then discovered that, in fact, Jordan is an extremely wealthy young woman. And that would have been a happy ending. In “Cocktail”, however, this order of events is reversed, so that he is still considering dumping her when he happens to discover her family is loaded. That puts a different complexion on things.

Then he has the gall to be offended when Jordan's father offers him $10 000 to exit her life. You can almost hear his brain tick over. “10 lousy thou. Dude, you've gotta be worth millions.” Then has the temerity to claim he deserves another chance. Why do you deserve another chance again, Brian?

"I deserve another chance because if another guy bets you that you can't fuck the first skank that comes along, you're obliged to accept the bet. Also, it turns out you are rich. By the way, could you get that fringe out of the way so I can see if anything is written on your forehead."

Pausing only to bash the shit out of some poor bellhop who was only doing his job, Brian the Creep succeeds in winning Jordan over and making her his ever-loving wife. Mark Brian up in the gallery of great heroes to have formed romantic connections with characters played by Elisabeth Shue, along with a kid who takes his mom along on dates, another kid who is hopelessly in the thrall of an evil ex-marine karate instructor, an stalker with the power of invisibility, a crazy White-Russian psychopath and the death-wish lush of all time, amongst others. I would say Elisabeth Shue can certainly pick her scripts, but since we have already established that she doesn't read them, I guess they choose her.

To demonstrate Brian's basic sincerity and steadfastness of character, the scriptwriters give Brian the Creep an opportunity to sleep with Doug's wife, about 10 minutes before Doug kills himself. However, since Doug's wife is butt-ugly, as previously mentioned (see, I wasn't being gratuitious), this piece of gallantry is less of an affirmation of Brian's fundamental decency than might otherwise have been the case.

VON HANGMAN. So, that is “Cocktail”. I can't improve on the way Kristen summed it up, earlier. Do you know what I have been thinking, Scarlett?

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. What have you been thinking, sugah?

VON HANGMAN. I've been thinking you're kind of like vodka…

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. What, made out of potatoes?

VON HANGMAN. … hey, I haven't finished my analogy.

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. I have seen you when you do finish an analogy. That Elisabeth Shue is like a chocolate in a chocolate tray metaphor went for about as long as “Gone With the Wind” without being so entertaining. OK, so I'm like vodka. I don't have any flavor? I'm colorless? What is it you're trying to say?

VON HANGMAN. And I'm like gin. Separately we're raw spirits.

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. But put us together and we make a cocktail. Gotcha! Is that the end of your analogy?

VON HANGMAN. Not quite. There is an olive I want to put into the top of the glass. A couple of weeks ago an online friend of mine, Willem (aka Travelleryki) sent me an email saying he intended to put up a review of “Cocktail” on his website. I said, if he did that, I would put up a link to it. And here it is. Click THE OLIVE to read a perspective on “Cocktail” from a third continent. (Willem is Dutch)


VON HANGMAN. You know, Scarlett, this is the penultimate installment in the 80s degrees of separation series.

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. There were times, I've got to say, sugah, it seemed like it might never end.

VON HANGMAN. And so, I'd like you to nominate who the link is going to be to the final installment of the series.

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. Why Mickey! That would be an honor. Since y'all seem to like Tom Cruise so much, why don't we have a look at another one of his movies.

VON HANGMAN. Lucky Nicole Kidman isn't around. OK. Tom Cruise it is. Can I get you another mint dulep before I start the washing up?

KRISTEN ELIZABETH. Well, I don't mind if I do. God's nightgown, I don't mind if I do.


Excusez-moi? Ai-je la "baise moi" écrit sur mon front?

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