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Risky Business
1983 - R - 99 Mins.
Director: Paul Brickman
Producer: Jon Avnet, Steve Tisch
Written By: Paul Brickman
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano, Richard Masur, Curtis Armstrong
Review by: John Ulmer
Jack Nicholson had the scene in which he's on the back of the motorcycle wearing a football helmet, John Travolta had the disco moves in the famous white suit, and Tom Cruise likewise has forever ingrained his cinematic presence by dancing and slidin' across the floor (in his underwear) to Bob Seger's 'Old Time Rock and Roll.' This brief but amusing sequence instantly launched him as a star. Many films from the 1980s had cult followings in their time but few continue to attract new audiences as Risky Business does.

Cruise plays Joel Goodsen, an ambitious 17-year-old about to graduate from a high school in Chicago - he plans to attend college, and is petrified of ruining his future by making a silly mistake which might jeopardize everything.

The problem is that although Joel is fairly bright, he's not an Einstein, and his street smarts leave something to be desired. When his parents leave on vacation for a week, they leave Joel home alone. Little do they know that Joel is a ticking time bomb waiting to explode. As soon as they depart he rebels by drinking, smoking, screwing and partying.

Truthfully, 'Risky Business' works well because its protagonist is an innocent - Joel is not Ferris Bueller. He doesn't put on a show for his parents - true to his name, he really is a "good son." But, as the movie's famous saying goes, there's a time for playing it safe, and there's a time for risky business.

For Joel, the risky business arrives in the form of a call girl named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay in her film debut). After calling a sex ad both out of interest and boredom (thanks to some bad peer pressure), Joel gets more than he bargains for when Lana shows up at his house, sleeps with him and then demands $300 the morning after. He heads to the bank, leaving her alone at his parents' home. When he returns, she's stolen one of his mother's antiques and is nowhere to be found.

Soon, however, Lana returns and claims that her pimp, Guido (Joe Pantoliano), has chased her away. She seeks refuge in Joel, who innocently believes her story - of course, we realize she's playing him like a fool, but Joel is just too darned gullible to draw any realizations on his own.

The movie evolves into a series of downward, spiraling events. Joel is faced with a number of moral dilemmas - his father owns a Porsche and makes it clear to Joel before he leaves that he doesn't want him driving it. "You're not insured," he says. "Just drive your mother's station wagon." Of course, temptation has its way with Joel and the result is a predicament that forces him to learn something about business from Lana and her profession.

One might expect the direction in a film like this to be poor -- however writer/director Paul Brickman displays a keen eye for ambiguity and also introduces some neat camera tricks. As all talented directors do, Brickman takes the standard stuff of the "losing my virginity" genre -- both plot cliches and directorial styles -- and fashions them into something new and fresh. Even the rather routine opening dream sequence is done in such a unique way that it becomes memorable.

In hindsight, 'Risky Business' presents us with Cruise's most innocent role to date. Since then, he seems content to play his typically cynical and cocky characters ('Top Gun,' 'Rain Man,' 'Born on the Fourth of July,' 'Minority Report,' 'Collateral,' and even 'Eyes Wide Shut' to name but a few), almost purposely trying to prove he wasn't the Nice Guy Next Door. But in 'Risky Business' Cruise is teen angst personified and he successfully makes the character likable and good-natured.

When asked if he enjoyed his night with Lana, Cruise sports a wide grin, embarrassed, finally admitting that he did indeed find it "great." It's painfully honest, and a clear indication that before he became famous he was far more willing to open up for the camera. And as for physical acting? It may not be Raging Bull-worthy but Cruise worked out and lost ten pounds in preparation for the role, and then - by the instruction of Brickman - he stopped exercising and ate excessive amounts of junk food, adding a ten-pound layer of "baby fat" that gave him the realistic appearance of a teenager.

De Mornay is similarly convincing as a hardened call girl - she abandons the stereotype of the Hooker with a Heart of Gold and paints a more cynical portrait of Lana - a deep and fascinating portrayal, really. At times she is downright unlikable and cruel - and at other times we can relate to her pain and frustration.

The themes of 'Risky Business' - determining one's position in life, passing through the rites of adulthood and coming to terms with various issues - were handled even better a year prior in Barry Levinson's 'Diner' but 'Business' is an entirely different kind of comedy. For what it is, it's one of the best - very few rude, crude teen comedies like 'American Pie' and 'Porky's' are so skillfully and honestly structured upon likable characters, and even more rarely do they still resonate with audiences many years later.

The film was released in 1983 and garnered some generally positive reviews. It did, however, much like 'The Graduate,' create a bit of controversy surrounding its sexual content. Nevertheless, it was a box office hit, and has become an iconic movie of the 1980s. And of course, this was Cruise's breakthrough movie. Seen 21 years later, there's no denying that the film is technically dated -- but its themes are not. "Risky Business" is the definitive R-rated teen movie about sex, love, growing up, having a good time, and managing to fix the sportscar before your dad gets home -- even if it means getting involved in a bit of "risky business." Because sometimes you've just gotta say...well, you know.
Movie Guru Rating
An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant. An important film.  A substantive artistic achievement.  Resonant.
  4.5 out of 5 stars

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