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COCKTAIL * * Tom Cruise, Bryan Brown, Elisabeth Shue; rated R (sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity, violence); Century Complex, Cineplex Odeon Midvalley Cinemas, Cineplex Odeon Trolley Corners Theaters, Mann Cottonwood Mall Theaters, Redwood Drive-in (with "Good Morning, Vietnam").

"Cocktail" is clearly a star vehicle, a movie built around an actor to showcase his most commercial talents.In this case the star is Tom Cruise and the formula is familiar - Cruise plays his patented cocky yuppie "comer," already established in both "Top Gun" and "The Color of Money."

But is that enough to build a movie around?

A good movie? No. But to make a killing at the box office? Yes.

"Cocktail" is the kind of film critics absolutely abhor. It contains every soap opera cliche in the book, many scenes seem to be structured around popular rock songs and the filmmakers know that no matter how bad this concoction is, the star will carry it all the way to the bank.

That calculation is apparently correct since audience members go nuts when Cruise's name appears in the opening credits. When his face appears they really go wild.

Cruise plays a newly discharged Army vet with no education. Somehow he manages to get job interviews with just about every broker on Wall Street anyway, but they tell him he needs a degree before he's going to get anywhere. (The youngest member of the audience could have told him that. Who does he think he is, Michael J. Fox in "The Secret of My Success" or "Bright Lights, Big City"?)

Anyway, Cruise settles into school by day and gets himself hired into a high-class Manhattan watering hole by night. There he gets a first-rate education in bartending and hustling women from Bryan Brown, an expert at both subjects, though he has been unable lo these many years to make it work for himself.

Brown also teaches Cruise how to juggle bottles so expertly that every drink poured becomes an acrobatic act. Soon they are the rage of the New York jet set, performing alcoholic dance routines that would make Patrick Swayze swoon. (Nary a bottle gets broken, however - even in Cruise's earliest learning stages.)

Now if "Cocktail," bizarre fantasy that it admittedly is, had stayed with this story, showing the rise and fall and perhaps rise again of Brown and Cruise - a sort of "The Color of Liquor" - it might have been an interesting film for more than just its first half-hour.

Unfortunately the film becomes a tragic love story instead. Cruise and Brown have a falling out over a girl, so Cruise heads for Jamaica where bartenders make great money and he can save to buy his own posh Manhattan joint.

Three years later Brown links up with Cruise again in Jamaica. Brown is now married to a ditsy, rich, unfaithful younger woman who is going to put him up in a posh Manhattan joint of his own, and he wants Cruise to work for him.

But Cruise has a dilemma. He's fallen in love with waitress/artist Elisabeth Shue ("Adventures in Babysitting"). Instead of being faithful to her, however, he decides to become the "kept man" of a wealthy businesswoman.

Back in New York, Cruise realizes the businesswoman is just using him and so he tracks down Shue and . . . oh, well. You can probably figure out the rest on your own.

Suffice it to say that the last hour or so of "Cocktail" uses enough dumb overused story plots to keep "Days of Our Lives" in daytime soap episodes for a couple of weeks.

Cruise's character is just too big a jerk to redeem himself at the last minute, and even Cruise can't overcome this screenplay's idiotic twists and turns with a sloppy grin.

And that's too bad since he and Shue are appealing actors, and especially since Brown turns in a most convincing performance.

Add to that this movie's fantasy treatment of drinking - you thought "Arthur 2" glorified alcohol? - and you have a movie with truly questionable motives.

"Cocktail" is rated R for considerable sex, nudity, profanity and some violence.