Lost And Found Series: Chapter 2 Have A Coke And A Smile

Art & Culture

How is everybody doing since our last visit to hell? Quite a surreal, quirky ride I must say but I hope it was an enjoyable one for anybody that watched Alex Cox’s caffeine addicted cowboys flick ‘Straight to Hell’. Now for something slightly different in this second instalment. A refreshing, bubbly, ice cold experience to quench that cinematic thirst. Ladies and gentleman I present to you…’The Coca-Cola Kid’.

Film: The Coca-Cola Kid

Cast: Eric Roberts, Greta Scacchi and Bill Kerr

Director: Dušan Makavejev

Again for the many of you reading this that haven’t seen or even heard of this little gem, you are probably wondering how did something with ‘Coca-Cola’ in the title pass you. Better yet, did a film with the words ‘Coca-Cola’ pass the ‘Coca-Cola Company’ themselves? Well, yes and no. Let’s do some background research before we open this can of worms…or rather Cola.

It is based on two short stories both described as having ‘discontinuous narratives’ called ‘The Americans, Baby’ and ‘The Electrical Experience’ by Frank Moorhouse who also served as screenwriter on the film. It spent a great deal of time in development hell, mainly due to the clash of the way films were made in Australia, where it is based, and Serbian director Dušan Makavejev’s work ethic who wanted  to shoot the film sequentially.

Now of course we know this is the eighties, just about anything was acceptable in this excessive decade as long as it was ‘awesome’. Watching some of your favourite childhood films now makes one question how certain things got through the radar whether it be incestuous sub-plots or prejudice comments. While those issues hardly apply here, The Coca-Cola Kid is a wacky and peculiar film at the very least from a legal standpoint. Since the product is shown in favourable manner, Cola decided not to take legal action. Instead the film begins with a long disclaimer which outlines that the film does not represent the company in any way, shape or form and is merely a fictional tale. I guess we, the audience, will be the judge of that.

The story goes Becker (Eric Roberts, yes that’s right Julia Robert’s brother) is a marketing guru that travels to Australia in order to start selling Cola in the fictional town Anderson Valley after noticing a dry spot in the market. Turns out that part of town is run by local erratic tycoon T. George McDowell (Bill Kerr) who is resistant to let other companies sell in his town but the charming Becker is determined to persuade McDowell otherwise and does everything in his power, including using quirky secretary Terri (Greta Scacchi), to make sure Cola is sold to the masses everywhere.

Just sounds like one big marketing tool right by Cola right? The catch is that the film is kind of worth a look, if only for its questionable morale that it tries to push on the audience, stand-out performance by Roberts and just overall oddball tone to the film provided by Makavejev with a unique outsider point of view of Australia which adds a refreshing flair to an otherwise conventional cliché narrative.

As I watched this entertaining collection of eccentric situations unravel, I sat back and wondered why Eric Roberts didn’t gain more fame and praise for his memorable performance in this film. He really does play Becker in a pitch-perfect manner. His naive perception of foreign culture is balanced well with his captivating southern twang, emphasising his desirable charm and vicious American marketing ideologies which make him out to be almost an archetype to Christian Bale’s Patrick Bateman character in ‘American Psycho’. They seem to share very similar psychopathic traits of being pleasant one moment and potentially deadly the next.

Apart from Robert’s tour de force performance, cinematographer Dean Semler should really be praised for his dynamic effort capturing the beautiful landscape of Australia. The film literally seems to have a brown bubbly hue Cola-esque tint to it, mostly apparent in a board meeting scene where characters faces are lit up by the popular beverage as everybody stares in amazement at its glow. These were possible conscience aesthetic choices made by Makavejev and Semler I am guessing that eventually led to the dismissal of any lawsuits or legal action being taken against the film. This is made even more evident when after the board meeting; Becker enquires the real intentions of an employee, agitated by the fact that they are wearing a ‘Pepsi’ t-shirt. I kid you not.

The second half of the film is nowhere near as delightful as the first as it drifts off into a romantic love story. This is made even less believable by the fact that Roberts and Greta Sacchi (who plays love interest Terri) don’t have much chemistry between each other. However, reading about the tension behind the scenes of the film this is not hard to see why the actor fine actors do did not get along on or off screen.  Scacchi has gone on record to say she purposely made sure that the steamy sex scene between her and Roberts was done in one take because she did not like working with Roberts. Even more bizarre that during the scene Robert allegedly removed his crotch-patch too. A story just as bizarre as anything that takes place in the film.

‘The Coca-Cola Kid’ deserves to be put in the found section, but it could of been left in the lost section considering how lacklustre the last thirty minutes of the film are. The parts that don’t work are redeemed by its otherworldliness and surreal scenes such as an Aborigine Coke song, Robert’s electric performance, visually engaging cinematography and outlandish narrative branding of Coca-Cola itself. You really have to see it to believe it.

Until next week then, have a Coke and a smile.

Lee Fairweather