Retro Review: The Coca-Cola Kid

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Directed by Dusan Makavejev
Written by Frank Moorhouse and Denny Lawrence 
Starring Eric Roberts, Greta Scacchi, Bill Kerr and Chris Haywood

Written by Gavin Bond

It wasn’t uncommon or unusual for international directors to venture downunder and produce and helm an Aussie big screen feature film during the ‘70s and ‘80s.

British luminaries Michael Powell (They’re A Weird Mob, Age of Consent) and Nicolas Roeg (Walkabout) tried their hand at capturing Australian culture and its landscape, while Canadian Ted Kotcheff was responsible for the groundbreaking cult flick Wake in Fright.

While esteemed and provocative Yugoslavian filmmaker Dusan Makavejev’s (Montenegro, WR: Mysteries of the Organism) foray into the Aussie psyche in the mid 80’s may not be up there with the afore mentioned flicks, The Coca-Cola Kid is nevertheless a vibrant and unique corporate satire.

Based on two short stories, The Americans, Baby (1972) and The Electrical Experience (1974) by Australian writer Frank Moorhouse, this 1985 oddity spent more than a decade in preparation and a whole two years in actual production. 

This wacky romp stars manic American actor Eric Roberts (best known as the big brother of Julia) who was at the height of his career after stellar turns in Star 80, The Pope of Greenwich Village and a manic Oscar nominated performance in Runaway Train.

Greta Scacchi in The Coca-Cola Kid.

A bleached blonde Roberts plays an eccentric U.S. marketing guru who heads downunder in an attempt to expand in and (in some cases) introduce Coca-Cola to small town Australia.

He unexpectedly comes up against plenty of opposition from a crusty old geyser called T. George McDowell (the late Bill Kerr) who makes his own soft drink.

The suave Becker (an intensely mannered performance from Roberts) tries to convince his nemesis to sign on to a joint venture, but things become complicated when the young tycoon from Atlanta falls for McDowell’s wacky daughter Terri (a suitably sultry and sexy Greta Scacchi.)

The extent to which one embraces this offbeat comedy is directly related to your penchant for over-the-top thesp Eric Roberts, who delivers another mesmerizingly edgy performance that continues to polarise audiences.

The film is also wildly uneven as it switches from moments of comic whimsy to unbridled slapstick and daring eroticism.

Highlights of The Coca-Cola Kid include Dean Semler’s gorgeous cinematography, an amusing satirical indigenous Coke commercial sequence and an engaging screen appearance and catchy ditty from musician Tim Finn (Scacchi’s real-life boyfriend at the time.)

Ultimately, The Coca-Cola Kid is best known for its infamous production delays and the onset feud between attractive leads Roberts and Scacchi, rather than its clever juxtaposition of American and Australian culture and its subtle and symbolic dig at American imperialism.

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