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Coca-Cola Kid, The

Fun City // R // June 28, 2022
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Justin Remer | posted July 6, 2022 | E-mail the Author

The Movie:

The Coca-Cola Kid (1985) is one of those fascinating mismatches of material and filmmaker that still kind of works despite itself.

Dušan Makavejev is one of the most popular avant-garde directors of the '60s and '70s, whose best-known film is WR: Mysteries of the Organism (1971). WR prankishly combines documentary, narrative, and agitprop in what could be termed Makavejev's signature style. By the mid-'80s, however, it seems like Makavejev just wanted to work. His 1974 film Sweet Movie was a litmus test for hipness in the button-pushing vein of John Waters's Pink Flamingos, but it also led to seven years where the director couldn't get a new project going. In 1981, Makavejev made the oddball romance Montenegro, which exploited his penchant for absurdity in a more crowdpleasing fashion. Since Montenegro was successful, it makes a kind of sense that Makavejev would turn next to a half-romance/half-lighthearted-satire of globalization, based on the short stories of Australian writer Frank Moorhouse.

Eric Roberts, hot off attention-grabbing turns in Star 80 and The Pope of Greenwich Village, is the star here. Drawling sweetly like Matthew McConaughey before Matthew McConaughey, Roberts plays Becker, a fixer for Coca-Cola. Becker is sent from the Georgia home office to boost the soft drink's sales in Australia. He is far from a typical suit. He's a twitchy, quirky ex-marine whose discomfort in his own skin is barely concealed by his pseudo-visionary pose. Like a lot of Roberts's characters from this era, Becker feels like he has flown in from another planet, not another country.

One of Becker's first orders of business is to find a specifically "Australian" sound for a new promo jingle. Pretty quickly, he discovers a didgeridoo player on the street and teams him up with Tim Finn (of Split Enz and Crowded House) to create beautiful music. The pop confection that comes out is admittedly damn catchy and could go head to head with that "I'd like to buy the world a Coke" song for jingle supremacy.

Becker also discovers an odd patch of the map where Coke has been unable to penetrate. It turns out that there's a self-made eccentric, T. George McDowell (Bill Kerr), with his own soft drink concern there. T. George owns the whole town and has fought off the Coke people for decades. Not being a standard-issue Coke person, Becker decides to confront this weirdo T. George himself. Despite his age and lack of metropolitan polish, the old man is no pushover. Becker has his work cut out for him.

Greta Scacchi lights up the screen as the slightly scattered Terri, a Coke secretary and single mother. She has a crush on Becker and a fairly predictable secret from her past involving T. George. At one point, the old soft drink bottler comes to the Coca-Cola corporate offices with a barrage of samples and full musical accompaniment; this impromptu visit inspires Terri to hide in a Coke-branded freezer. Scacchi brings a naturalness and elegance to goofy moments like these, as well as a playful sensuality to those moments where her desire for Becker leads her to more aggressive seduction tactics.

Many reviews of The Coca-Cola Kid mention Bill Forsyth's 1983 sleeper Local Hero, which shares the corporate fish-out-of-water set-up of this film. Makavejev's approach here only rarely evokes the sweetness and direct humor of Forsyth. I would not suggest that Makavejev should ape another director's style, but honestly The Coca-Cola Kid's script probably would have benefitted from a more focused, Forsyth-like slant. Makavejev instead is loose-limbed, seemingly tickled by weird behavior and unexpected visuals more than hard jokes. Plenty of shots look like they were snipped out of a commercial, leaving the impression of prankster Dušan subtly mocking both mainstream filmmaking's degraded aesthetics and Coca-Cola's brand iconography. (Sadly, one suspects this is a bit too subtle for modern viewers more inclined to assume that everything in the '80s just looked like a commercial anyway.)

Admittedly, Makavejev's looseness leads to many wonderful sequences. Terri gets into fights with her ex-husband (Chris Haywood) that are absurdly sloppy and physical. A presumably improvised shower conversation between Terri and her young daughter (Rebecca Smart) has a disarming, stolen-moment quality. Becker and Terri's long-teased love scene pays off with Becker ripping a Santa suit off of Terri in a flurry of feathers (where did they come from?); the sequence is both funny and hot as hell.

It's just... The Coca-Cola Kid ultimately is a comedy that prompts more smiles than belly laughs. A director versed in Ealing Studios-style economy would have made a more satisfying comedy. Makavejev, on the other hand, has made a quirkier film object. It's unique, but I can't help be bugged by the tantalizing "what if"s of the unmade movie that now resides in my head.

The Blu-ray
The Coca Cola Kid is packaged with reversible cover art, featuring a hot new design by We Bury Your Kids or the original poster design. A color booklet includes an essay by Spike Carter. A limited edition slipcover is currently available when the Blu is purchased from the Vinegar Syndrome website.

The Video:
Fun City has yet to offer a less-than-excellent video presentation. Sourced from a 2K restoration of a 35mm interpositive, this AVC-encoded 1080p 1.85:1 presentation is a gorgeous upgrade. No noticeable dirt or damage. Detail is sharp and textured. Colors are richly saturated. Film grain is heavy and organic-looking.

The Audio:
A well preserved LPCM 2.0 stereo soundtrack. Dialogue is well-supported, ambience and music are well-mixed. As I wrote above, Tim Finn's Coke jingle is a bop. One subtitle option: English SDH.

Special Features:

  • Audio commentary by film programmer Lars Nilsen and Fun City Editions' Jonathan Hertzberg - An appreciative chat about the film, which delves into its history and argues its merits.

  • Dark and Bubbly: Eric Roberts on The Coca-Cola Kid (HD, 11:07) - A new interview where Roberts talks about his experiences on this film, but also broadly about a number of his roles from this era.

  • The Real Thing (HD upscale, 32:16) - A 2009 featurette featuring Greta Scacchi and producer David Roe. Roe talks about getting the project going and managing a personality like Makavejev's. Scacchi talks appearing smitten with a costar she couldn't stand being around in real life. A pretty frank and informative discussion.

  • Trailer

  • Image Gallery

Final Thoughts:
The Coca-Cola Kid is a fish-out-of-water comedy that has more quirks than hard laughs. Still, it's a fun and unique later effort from the iconoclastic Dušan Makavejev. Fun City's Blu-ray offers the expected lavish A/V treatment and some thoughtful extras. Recommended.

Justin Remer is a frequent wearer of beards. His new album of experimental ambient music, Joyce, is available on Bandcamp, Spotify, Apple, and wherever else fine music is enjoyed. He directed a folk-rock documentary called Making Lovers & Dollars, which is now streaming. He also can found be found online reading short stories and rambling about pop music.

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