Coyote Ugly and Cocktail (review)

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Unhappy Hour

Ever find yourself in a movie so insidiously stupid that, if your foot were stuck to the floor by golden topping or gum or something even more disgusting, you’d chew your own leg off to get out of the theater? That’s what “coyote ugly” means. And Coyote Ugly is coyote ugly.

This is the latest cinematic advertisement for how ramrod-straight heterosexual Jerry Bruckheimer (Con Air, Armageddon) is. (It’s getting to the point that one has to wonder whether the gentleman doth protest just a tad too much.) David McNally is credited as the film’s director, and Gina Wendkos as its writer, but Coyote Ugly has Bruckheimer’s testosterone stink all over it. Charmless and indescribably offensive, this film omits not a single stereotypical male fantasy of what supposedly makes women hot. Trampy wardrobes, wet t-shirts, girls groping each other, and even a subconscious desire to be raped: Coyote Ugly misses not a one.
“Appear available but never be available” is what Lil (Maria Bello: Payback) — the owner of Coyote Ugly, the most ridiculously named bar in New York City — tells her female bartenders. (They’re all female, of course, and young and skinny, with characterless, model-pretty faces — this is a Bruckheimer production, after all.) Their apparent sexual accessibility, as they writhe on top of the bar every night in between serving drinks, is what keeps ’em coming back for more — both male, and, bizarrely, female patrons alike. They’re teases, look-but-don’t-touch merchandise for the customers to ogle. Into this cesspit comes Violet (Piper Perabo: The Adventures of Rocky and Bullwinkle), a Jersey girl looking to make it in the big city and desperate for a job. Here, Violet will be transformed from a shy, hopelessly innocent kid into a sad caricature of an empowered woman, as if baring your navel and gyrating in front of perfect strangers were what made one a grownup. It’s disgusting in the same way that photos of little JonBenet Ramsey in her garish getup make you want to puke.

What must Bruckheimer think of women? Watch as half-naked CU bar-babes Zoe (Tyra Banks: The Apartment Complex) and Cammie (Izabella Miko) flash enormous wads of cash in the middle of the night in a skanky NYC diner, begging to be robbed and, what the hell, raped on their way home. Watch as Cammie is dragged off the top of the bar by rampaging drunkards seemingly intent on gang-raping her, a fate from which she is rescued by Violet, who leaps up on the bar to belt out a provocative song that distracts Cammie’s admirers. And yet Cammie mustn’t have actually wanted to be rescued (even though she was screaming for help), because later that night, after Violet’s triumph, Cammie jealously intones, “They all wanted you.” Bruckheimer’s Dating Advice for Men: Even when she’s screaming No, she’s thinking Yes.

Coyote Ugly is, in fact, two inane movies melded together. Everything that happens outside the bar, an insipid and naïve story of love and adventure in the big city, suggests that Bruckheimer optioned the creative writing journal of a dreamy 12-year-old girl and punched it up in his own inimitable style. Violet wants to be a songwriter, just like her mom, who was lovely and perfect and is, of course, now tragically dead. This has been a lifelong dream of Violet’s, but does she know a single goddam thing about the music industry? No. She stumbles around the city, learning things about the music biz that she would have known if she’d read the Village Voice once in a while, in the process meeting Kevin (Adam Garcia: Wilde), an ohmigod gorgeous cute (if you like ‘N Sync) guy who’s like totally Australian and exotic. Except he isn’t, and the relationship these two nitwits embark upon has all the passion of an 8th-grade romance, written with about that level of understanding of human interaction. Rarely have I been so embarrassed for actors, watching them forced to perform some of the silliest love scenes I’ve ever seen.

Well, Perabo and Garcia appear onscreen during Coyote Run — calling them actors may be stretching it. Garcia handles his dialogue so ineptly that his own apparently genuine Australian accent sounds fake. Perabo has the emotional range of the peanuts that are not on the bar at Coyote Ugly. If there can be said to be a bright spot in this dismal excuse for a movie, it is John Goodman (Bringing Out the Dead) as Violet’s dad, who at least kept my attention from drifting away from the screen when he was on it.

Lest we be tempted to think that perhaps some of the blame for this mess lies with the writer or director, the Coyote Ugly press kit, while trying to convince us that Bruckheimer’s movies are “stories told with style and passion, cinematic adventures that engage and hold us,” they nevertheless do what they do “until Jerry Bruckheimer himself says it’s a wrap.”

Your second lousy drink is free
Cocktail is almost exactly the same movie as Coyote Ugly, though it does one-up Coyote Ugly by getting both “cock” and “tail” into its title, a feat which has, surprisingly, eluded Jerry Bruckheimer thus far. (Cocktail is not, despite somewhat popular belief, a Bruckheimer film — it’s gotta be the title that fuels that notion.)

Like the aforementioned waste of celluloid, 1988’s Cocktail is two very different movies melded together. Brian Flanagan (Tom Cruise: Mission: Impossible 2, Magnolia, phoning it in) wants to be Charlie Sheen in Wall Street, but he ain’t no college boy. Corporate doors all over Manhattan slam in his face, so he finances a university education with a job as a bartender in an Upper West Side tavern run by Doug Coughlin (Bryan Brown: On the Beach, Grizzly Falls, repeating the Australian motif). Doug teaches Brian everything he knows about how to mix a drink and do it so cool and so hot that all the ladies will be swooning… and leave their phone numbers along with their big tips.

Like Coyote Ugly‘s Violet, Brian is a bridge-and-tunnel boy (he’s from Queens) trying to carve a niche for himself in Manhattan. Convinced that his dorky college profs don’t know anything about how to run a business, Brian proposes that he and Doug set up their own bar, called Cocktails & Dreams. (It could be worse — Brian could have suggested calling it Coyote Ugly.) You’d be forgiven for thinking that Doug owned the bar where they’re both working, but he doesn’t. A lot of detail like that gets lost in this rather slipshod flick.

Unlike in Coyote Ugly, Cocktail‘s two stories don’t sit uncomfortably side by side, like a woman trying to shake off the drunk hitting on her from the next stool. Instead, about 45 minutes into the film, Brian’s dream is lost and New York disappears. Nursing a broken heart inflicted by a lady customer with whom he unwisely hooked up, Brian heads to Jamaica (in the islands, not back to Queens), where he’d heard hotshot bartenders can pull in $400 a day, tax free. Originally, Brian discussed this option with Doug as a method of financing their own place — now, all talk of things entrepreneurial are forgotten as Brian, and the film, go the island-romance route with the sudden appearance of Jordan Mooney (Elisabeth Shue: Hollow Man), a starving artist and waitress who turns out, rather conveniently, as it transpires, to also be from New York. Brian and Jordan ride horses in the surf and cuddle by campfires on the beach. Much of Cocktail looks like a Club Med advertisement, and feels as put-together as a vacation at a resort that treats adults like they’re at day camp.

At least Cocktail isn’t offensive… unless you are insulted by losing two hours of your life — two hours you’ll never get back — to a boring movie with the emotional depth of a Harold Robbins novel. But Cocktail does feature Gina Gershon (The Insider) in a small role, and we all know how cool she is.

Coyote Ugly
viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers
rated PG-13 for sensuality
official site | IMDB

viewed at home on a small screen
rated R

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