The Nexus of Pop-Culture Fandom

Consuming a stale Cocktail: The Legacy of a Controversial Movie

Written by: Rob Van Winkle, CC2K Staff Writer


I have a theory about movies and television that states that the more you loved, or feared, or were shocked by a movie or show as a child, the more disappointed you will be when you re-visit it as an adult.  Because of this, I have a hard and fast rule to never re-watch the icons of my youth. The only flaw in this rule is that I constantly break it.

There was the time several years ago when I was in charge of entertaining a group of children, and decided to rent a tape of The Challenge of the Go-Bots,  a cartoon that for a while was my very favorite thing on television. I mean, it was Good Vs. Evil! They all shot lasers right from their fists! That one androgynous bad guy could make electricity emanate from his foot! What wasn’t to like? All of this is true,  and yet when I actually played this tape, the only thing more notable than how bored the kids were was how appalled I was at the utter all-around shittiness of the show. Now, every memory of that show (and the time I spent enjoying it) is ruined, and my faith in my own tastes as a child is forever questioned.

There was also the time more recently when I saw that Superman II was available on my free ON-Demand service, and leapt at the chance to see, once more, the movie that I must have watched fifty times when I was a kid. Now, unlike what I wrote above, I will not besmirch this film, and I offer freely that it is still the strongest of all the Superman movies, and an interesting and exciting piece in its own right. However, no matter how many good things I can say about it now, I could never match the enthusiasm and passion I had for it way back when. In the days when the presence of Superman II on my babysitter’s TV meant the difference boredom and euphoria, it was the single greatest movie I had ever known. It was terrifying, and heartbreaking, and hilarious, and breathtaking, and exciting. Because of the hundreds of hours I spent playing Superman as a result of this movie, I was convinced that, when I ran full speed toward, then eventually leapt onto, my couch, there was a moment when I was actually flying.  Compared to THAT enthusiasm, my reunion with this movie was bound to disappoint. This time, I watched a fun though flawed movie with effects that just didn’t age well at all. Once more, my modern cynical mind poked holes in my own memories of youth; I am now forced to remember my Superman days differently than I would if I had never seen it again.

And very recently, I ruined my memories of Cocktail, by watching it for the very first time.


The REAL Challenge is convincing people that they don’t blow.

  You see, I have found that there is an interesting corollary to my aforementioned theory, that states that, just as you should avoid the movies and shows you loved as a kid, for fear that they won’t live up to the hype created in your own mind, you should also avoid the movies that you either would not, or were not ALLOWED to see. Simply put, the movies that THREATENED to scare or titillate you when you were young – so much so that you were either forbidden or too frightened to see – hold a similar place in our hearts to the things we did consume. We were held in awe of them for what they represented, namely the promise of growing older, being one day able to “handle” these things, and thus learning the “secrets” of getting bigger. They are, in essence, the pop culture equivalent of fifth graders, seen from the eyes of kindergartners.  And, if you grant me that, then go with me one step further: now that we’re all grown up, just how cool/scary/awesome do you find fifth graders today?

I wrote once before about a movie that scared me as a kid , and how disappointed I was when I finally saw it. While I was never scared of Cocktail (though I might have been, if I had known just how insane its lead would turn out to be…), I sure was aware of it.

Do you remember the fervor that accompanied Cocktail when it first came out? It was rated-R back when that meant something, starred an whose two previous movies established him as an A-List sex symbol/movie star (Top Gun) and an honest-to-gosh ACTOR (The Color of Money), and promised to be the ultimate hedonistic Hollywood thrill.  It promised so much passion and sex that even liberal parents balked at the idea of allowing their kids to see it (the “warnings” that came up before it aired indicated that it contained “strong sexual content” AND “nudity.) As an 11-year-old when it was released, the closest I came to this movie was that irritating and ubiquitous Beach Boys song. This movie, it seemed, was EVERYWHERE.

(Note about the above paragraph: if someone out there remembers the Cocktail phenomenon differently – like for instance that everything I just wrote was bullshit, and there WAS no Cocktail phenomenon – then I am betting that you are right. You can’t allow that your memories of a film are skewered by how old you were when you saw it, without ALSO allowing that your memory of the hype surrounding it might be likewise suspect. However, given that this is what I THOUGHT was going on, in this case, that makes it so.)

When I finally saw Cocktail, (as a grown-up, with my wife), not only was it NOT overly controversial and sexual (Hell, if I had an eleven-year-old child, I might let them see it right now!), but it was also barely comprehensible!

Let’s recap the plot, as best as I understand it:

Tom Cruise is Brian Flanigan, a young Irish (chuckle) man who wants to make it big in the big city. To make ends meet, he works as a night bartender at TGI Fridays (becoming the protégé and partner of the main bartender there) while taking business classes during the day.  Even as his grades suffer (he receives a failing grade for consoling another student who is getting berated by their asshole teacher), his skills behind the bar skyrocket, and he is soon the best bartender, in the hippest bar, in all of New York. (Ah! It’s a Horatio Alger, rags-to-riches story!)

One night, he meets Gina Gershon at the bar, and by the end of the night, they are having raucous sex in her apartment. (I had assumed this would be where the nudity would occur; Gina Gershon was, after all, in Showgirls. Alas, I think the only thing that was shown was the outline of her ass, through the sheets.) When Brian leaves her place, he is clearly smitten.  (Oh, it’s a love story…of sorts.)

In the next scene, with Coral (Did I mention that Gershon’s character’s name is Coral?) draped all over him, Brian reveals to his fellow bartender/mentor his plan for how they will make their fortune: bartending in Jamaica! Of COURSE! The money is SO good for skilled bartenders in the Caribbean that if they do it for a few years, they’ll then have the 75 thousand dollars necessary for them to open their OWN bar! Brian’s mentor is skeptical of the plan, and Coral, and bets Brian that she will have sex with another guy within a week. That night at the bar, Coral shows up, makes out with the mentor, and then breaks up with Brian for talking about their sex life. Brian gets into a fight with the mentor,  and subsequently quits his job, and their plans. (Wait…what?)

Suddenly, we are in Jamaica, and Brian is once more behind a bar. He meets Elizabeth Shue, and over the course of her vacation, the two of them fall for each other. Brian attempts to be a gentleman with her, yet during a particularly romantic date at a waterfall, they give in to their passion and have each other under the water. (For SURE this must result in the nudity promised in the opening warning, I thought, but no; only a glimpse of Shue’s side boob).


Brian Flanigan discusses his business plan with a potential investor

  Right as things are starting to look good for them, the Mentor shows up! He informs us that three years have elapsed, and in that time, he (the Mentor) has fallen in love and married a young, sexy, wealthy woman. Mentor tells Brian that tricking a rich woman into marriage is the ultimate way to achieve your dreams, and dares Brian to hit on (and sleep with) one as soon as he can. He does…and it works! The rich chick falls head over heels for Brian, insists that he return with her to the mainland (New York City, as luck would have it!), and sweetens the deal by promising him a job in her company! (So…it’s a movie about making your way to the top as a gigolo?)

Once he returns to NYC, nothing works for Brian. His relationship with the rich chick fails when it becomes obvious that she had no intention of getting him a job, and when he seeks out Elizabeth Shue (She TOO lives in NYC!!), she won’t talk to him, since she saw him take that other woman to his room. He tries to explain himself (They guys BET me to do her! I only fucked her because she was rich!), but she tells him that she can never trust him again, after telling him that she’s pregnant with his child. (so…it’s a cautionary tale for young women about having unprotected sex with "the help" while on vacation!)

With nowhere else to turn, Brian returns to his mentor, who has used his wife’s money to open an enormous bar (that is simply PACKED with people who want to spend their money there.) Mentor takes Brian to his private boat, where he admits that he is completely broke, due to ill-advised investments and being ignorant on how to run a business. Mentor gets drunk and passes out, and Brian is left to drive Mentor’s wife home…where she attempts to fuck him. He turns her down (though he seems angry about it) and when he returns to Mentor’s boat to tell him about it…Mentor has killed himself! There’s blood everywhere! (So…it’s a cautionary tale AGAINST trying to make your way to the top as a gigolo.)

Brian tries to talk to Elizabeth Shue again, but discovers that she has moved in with her parents on Park Avenue. PARK AVENUE! She’s RICH!!! He rushes over there, where he meets her father, a predictably pricky douchebag who offers Brian ten thousand dollars to go away. He rips up the check, but this fails to win her over, and so he leaves. (So…it’s a modern fable, teaching plucky young go-getters to fuck chicks even if they’re poor, because they might not be, and to remain loyal to them, because if you sleep with the chick you know is rich and it doesn’t work out, you might ruin your chance to get the poor chick’s millions.)


Elisabeth Shue, emanating pure SEX on screen. No WONDER it was rated-R!

  Somehow, Brian decides to try again. He now BREAKS INTO Shue’s parents’ Park Avenue place, and is able to lock himself into a room with her. He professes his undying love for her, and says that he now wants to work really really hard for money, instead of getting it easily. He has scraped together enough loans to open a bar, and if she runs off with him, they can be married and live in squalor while he works 100 hours a week trying to make ends meet! Her father opens the door and swears that if she’ll get nothing from him if she leaves. Unmoved, the loving couple exits the apartment, and enters their life together. They are soon married, and when we last see them, they are together in Brian’s new bar, where his crowd of regulars listen with reverential awe as he recites a poem about his new wife and impending child. (Did I mention that he was a poet?)

I just re-lived this movie detail for detail, and I STILL can’t figure out what the big deal was here! Did the entire box-office take for Cocktail consist of teenagers and women who wanted to pretend that Tom Cruise was screwing them, and the guys who took those women in the hopes they’d get hot and bothered enough to sleep with them as Cruise surrogates? I can’t imagine any man wanting to see this movie for any reason, or any woman wanting to see it for any other reason.

And so, without any likeable characters, a story that makes any sense (or is in any way interesting), OR any of the controversy that I remember surrounding this movie when it first came out), Cocktail in 2006 will be popular only with those people who remember liking it once upon a time (or weren’t allowed to see it back then), yet refrain from checking it out now.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m off to go see Casual Sex?, the raunchy sex comedy starring Lea Thompson and Victoria Jackson. My mother didn’t let me rent it when I had a sleepover party in sixth grade, and I never got a chance to see it again. If it’s anywhere NEAR as hot and steamy as it was in my ten-year-old mind, then it's going to be a HOT time in my house tonight!!!