With so many great movies to choose from, it's difficult deciding on one that could be seen as the quintessential 80s flick. I'm not talking about the teen comedies or only movies celebrating the music of the period, big hair, or the flashy, brightly-colored clothing. I'm thinking here of stories which genuinely captured the essence of the era and however artificially, embody that decade of excess, greed, feign wealth and the bottomless emptiness that usually accompanies it. Even those that are not particularly good or exceptional come with an attitude and flair that is pure 80s, which makes them worth revisiting aside from the nostalgia effect.
One such flick is 1988's 'Cocktail,' whose only memorable aspect is frankly a pair of juggling bartenders working the swanky nightclubs of New York. Looking back at it, it's funny seeing Tom Cruise's eagerly ambitious Brian Flanagan working at a T.G.I. Friday's while studying for a business degree and learning the art of "flair bartending," as the dazzling style for mixing alcoholic drinks is known. But that's how it actually started — mid-80s inside a T.G.I. Friday's of all freaking places. It's also what makes the romantic drama weirdly special because it tapped into a trend just as it was growing and surprisingly tries to offer a commentary on the vain pursuit of success.
Even funnier is that the same could be said of the movie itself because much of it feels like a vanity showcase for Cruise's winning smile and signature charm. This was also at around the same time he was becoming a major superstar with one box-office hit after another, which continued all the way through the 90s. As the bright-eyed kid with aspirations of owning a successful chain of restaurants, there's nothing truly remarkable of the character or Cruise's performance, but director Roger Donaldson ('Thirteen Days,' 'The World's Fastest Indian') takes advantage of the handsome actor's magnetism, making him the epitome of a generation driven by materialism, valuing money above all else.
That thirst and yearning for a fast-track to success is noticed by his boss turned mentor, Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown of 'F/X' and 'Gorillas in the Mist'). As the experienced bartender, Brown is able to do more in the role than Cruise in his, living by a set of rules which he seems to concoct on the fly the same way he mixes his drinks. There is a sadness and loneliness to Brown's performance and in the way he delivers his lines. He's a middle-aged man who's come to believe his own bullshit, yet preaches it to Cruise's Flanagan as if lessons to live by. Flanagan doesn't realize this until it's too late, allowing Coughlin's guidance to be the detriment of his only real shot at happiness with Elisabeth Shue.
It's all a bit corny, to be sure, but obviously the filmmakers must have struck the right chord because 'Cocktail' became not only a massive hit with moviegoers but also became a huge cultural phenomenon. Based on the book by Heywood Gould, who also wrote the screenplay, the plot's commentary on estimating one's success in life during the decade of excess and materialism is not as incisive as the movie pushes it. However, I must admit it's a clever idea to disguise that message in a story about one man's rise to glory as a bartender and deliver it in a rather entertaining fashion. 'Cocktail' may not be the quintessential 80s flick we love to cherish, but it sure epitomizes the spirit of that era with mild cynicism.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Walt Disney Studios Home Entertainment serves up 'Cocktail' on a Region Free, BD50 disc inside a blue eco-lite keepcase. After a couple trailers at startup, viewers are taken to a main menu still with music in the background.
'Cocktail' mixes things up on Blu-ray, going down smooth and sweet but ultimately leaving behind a somewhat bitter and unimpressive aftertaste.
The 1080/AVC MPEG-4 encode is likely not to blame and there's nothing inherently wrong the picture really. It's actually rather consistent with well-balanced contrast and a very thin layer of natural grain, giving the presentation an attractive cinematic quality. It's the cinematography of Dean Semler which simply doesn't lend itself well to the high-def format. Added to that, what we see on screen is not taken from a fresh, new remaster of the original elements. Colors are definitely bright and primaries can be fairly vivid at times, mostly during scenes in Jamaica, but the overall palette lacks the sort of pop we'd expect from such an animated 80s flick. Black levels waver noticeably from scene to scene, but they're generally strong and passable with good shadow details. Definition and resolution are an improvement, yet the video is never really as sharp and distinct.
Things definitely fare much better in the audio department, though it still falls just shy of any wow factor. Being a character-driven story, dialogue takes center stage and the DTS-HD Master Audio track delivers the many conversations loud and clear, even those taking place inside the noisy clubs. Speaking of which, the music also plays a big role in the movie, chock full of some great 80s hits, and is the reason for making this soundtrack a winner. Songs open up the soundstage with good clarity in the mid-range and a healthy low-end that spices things up nicely. The tunes spread into the surrounds convincingly, extending the soundfield with satisfying effect. Discrete sounds are mostly contained in the fronts, which is not a complaint but made more apparent by music that does better at filling the room.
In the end, it's a very good lossless mix but ultimately leaves you wanting just a bit more.
This is a bare-bones release.
Based on the book by Heywood Gould, who also wrote the screenplay, 'Cocktail' is the story of a young man's drive for success, bartending his way to the top. Starring Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown, and Elizabeth Shue, the 80s romantic drama is an entertaining flick that ballooned into a major cultural phenomenon during its theatrical run and is remembered today a nostalgic commentary on the decade of excess and greed. The Blu-ray arrives with a good but not very impressive picture quality and a better audio presentation. Sadly, this is a bare-bones release, so fans are more likely to be content with their purchase while others will want to give it a rent first.