Rotten Tomatoes Exposes Tom Cruise’s Film Catastrophe: The Worst Movie Yet?

1986’s “Top Gun” decidedly propelled Tom Cruise toward stardom, while the actor had already made his mark with “Risky Business” and “The Color of Money,” two films that helped underline his dynamic range as a performer before his rise to fame. From this point on, Cruise would go on to star in a string of projects that cemented his superstar status, but like any performer, a few films failed to impress audiences and critics for many reasons. No, I am not talking about the disastrous “The Mummy” — the first and final entry in the doomed Dark Universe — but the lowest-rated Tom Cruise film, at least according to Rotten Tomatoes. I’m talking about Roger Donaldson’s 1988 film about making drinks and money: “Cocktail,” which currently sports an abysmal 9% on Rotten Tomatoes.

A still from Cocktail

There is good reason for this overwhelmingly negative consensus, as “Cocktail” feels like an unsavory product of its time, what with its tendency to lean into sexism for laughs, or an overt reliance on hyperconsumerism. Iffy themes and treatment of certain subject matter aside, the film’s narrative feels hollow, where no amount of charm is enough to fill this gaping void. It is an unrealistic fantasy that fails to entertain even with the suspension of disbelief, and Cruise’s natural charisma feels squandered on something so empty. However, despite the film’s often irritating lack of self-awareness, “Cocktail” deserves a viewing due to its hyperspecific appeal to a time devoid of responsibilities, with Cruise playing an exceedingly suave bartender who feels progressively irredeemable, but suddenly gains a saint’s conscience by the end. Here’s what you can expect from “Cocktail.”

Cocktail fails to highlight Cruise’s strengths as a performer
A still from Cocktail

After serving in the army, Brian Flanagan (Cruise) arrives in New York City with ambitious dreams, eager to make quick money after bagging a cushy job. However, dreams often shatter, and he has to make do with bartending by night while attending business school by day, with experienced bartender Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown) teaching him how to flair and impress patrons. After experiencing the high of impressing women and being semi-popular due to his skills, Brian begins to dream bigger, dropping out of business school to eventually open a chain of bars — an impractical decision in favor of pursuing something with a mentor who constantly eggs him to throw caution to the wind while being emotionally insensitive to those around him.

An inevitable falling out occurs between the men, and Brian decides to go to Jamaica to make his dreams come true, where he meets Jordan (Elizabeth Shue), whom he treats rather horribly, but his actions are painted as flawed as opposed to being deliberate transgressions. This is where “Cocktail” feels the most grating, as Brian is intended as a protagonist worth rooting for, but only comes off as an obtuse jerk, incapable of treating women like human beings or introspecting about his innermost desires. This aspect would have worked if the narrative rooted Brian as an antagonistic figure who indulged in morally soulless escapades for the sake of making money — something which Cruise could have embodied perfectly, like that of his shrewd, unhinged character in “Collateral.”

The narrative intent of “Cocktail” only feels more questionable with time, along with its mixed messaging that both condones and chastises moral bankruptcy, peppered with a dozen misogynistic jokes and attitudes clogging up an already barebones holiday adventure.

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