COCKTAIL Directed by Roger Donaldson A FISH CALLED WANDA Directed by Charles Crichton VIBES Directed by Ken Kwapis
Brian D. JohnsonAugust81988
A trio of summer trifles
Directed by Roger Donaldson
A FISH CALLED WANDA
Directed by Charles Crichton
Directed by Ken Kwapis
In a trio of new movies, three quite different performers stretch their talents. And in each case, there is cause for concern. Singer Cyndi Lauper’s acting debut as a psychic in Vibes raises an obvious question: can she act? Meanwhile, fans of British satirist John Cleese— one of the acrobatic brains behind Monty Python's Flying Circus—may wonder what he is doing playing love scenes with Jamie Lee Curtis in A Fish Called Wanda. For his part,
Tom Cruise has worked as a leading man since he was a boy, but as a flashdancing bartender in Cocktail he faces a fresh acting challenge: can he mix
Cruise seems destined to portray show-offs pursuing unusual careers. As a high schooler in 1983’s Risky Business, he did a rock-star dance in his underwear and set up a brothel in his parents’ house. In 1986’s Top Gun, he was a fighter pilot with the fastest joy stick in the U.S. navy. And in 1986’s The Color of Money, he tried to outhustle Paul Newman by twirling a pool cue to a pop song.
Give Cruise a sound track and he turns into a one-man rock video. For Cocktail, Cruise learned a new set of tricks. Method actor that he is, he went to bartenders’ school and learned to spin bottles in the air when pouring fancy drinks. Much of the movie is devoted to that dubious art, which Cruise performs in tandem with Australian costar Bryan Brown. To a hard-driving backbeat, they juggle bottles back and forth behind the bar, while a crush of glamorous female customers cheer and drool.
Filmed in Manhattan, Toronto and Jamaica, Cocktail is a slick but vile concoction layered with dashes of Hollywood formula. Cruise plays Brian, a high-school graduate who turns to bartending after failing to find a career on Wall Street. He falls in with Doug (Brown), a wily veteran who teaches him how to sling drinks on Manhattan’s exclusive Upper East Side. “A bartender is the aristocrat of the
working class,” declares Doug, suggesting that the profession is a passport to sex and wealth.
After proving himself behind the bar and between the sheets, he heads south to cool out. Tending bar in Jamaica—which is portrayed with the synthetic gloss of a tourist board commercial —he meets and mistreats the girl of his dreams. Cocktail is a vacuous throwback to Saturday Night Fever—without the cultural novelty. The script is spiked with some comic lines, but overproof doses of inadvertent humor kill the effect.
By contrast, the relentless humor of A Fish Called Wanda is always intentional. John Cleese, who wrote the script, stars as an English barrister named Archie whose dignity is rudely compromised by some mischievous Americans. A quartet of thieves, each with a hidden agenda, stage a diamond heist. The gang leader, George (Tom Georgeson), betrays his accomplices by hiding the jewels. His lover, Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis), betrays him for a demented American named Otto (Kevin Kline). And together, they snitch on George to the police. Wanda then seduces George’s lawyer, Archie, in an attempt to track down the hidden jewels. The fourth accomplice, Ken (Michael Palin)—an animal lover who keeps pet fish and has a dreadful stutter—is betrayed by everyone.
The farce is played out like a wacky game of snakes and ladders. Curtis, with her long, thin-lipped face and aerobic body, plays a soulless Ameri-
can vamp. Kline’s Otto is a manic Yank with a gun. And Cleese’s unflappable barrister serves as the butt of jokes about the English. “They get rigor mortis in the prime of life here,” whines Otto, “standing there with their hair all clenched up, just waiting for the weekend so they can dress up as ballerinas and whip each other to a frenzy.” In the Monty Python tradition, the script is an assembly of skitlike situations cobbled into a flimsy story. The humor is cruel and at times wildly funny. Although the farce wears thin toward the end, Cleese tries to salvage some semblance of romantic comedy from chaos. The attempt fails. But in the process, he demonstrates his considerable
talent as an actor as well as a comic.
As for Cyndi Lauper, it is still not clear whether she can act. Vibes is such a dreadful movie that she never has a chance to prove it. But as a psychic beautician named Sylvia, she has a chance to speak in tongues and wear amazing clothes. Her Kewpie-doll face is crowned by candy-floss hair and she wears one skimpy, skintight dress after another. Sylvia and a fellow psychic (Jeff Goldblum) are lured to Ecuador to hunt for a lost Incan treasure trove. Produced by Ron Howard (Splash), the movie is a muddle of plundered concepts from Treasure of the Sierra Madre and Raiders of the Lost Ark. Bug-eyed Goldblum—who seems to be still buzzing from his kinetic performance in The Fly—bounces around the set as if he were quite lost. Lauper, oblivious, simply acts like a girl who just wants to have fun.
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