Risky Business (1983)

4 May

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Smith’s Verdict: ****

Reviewed by Tanner Smith

In a time when the teen-movie genre was leaning towards being sex comedies for commercial appeal (and no, I won’t bring up the gimmick-setting “Porky’s” again—everyone else is thinking of it anyway), “Risky Business” was like a breath of fresh air. It wasn’t as mature and as slice-of-life as “Tex,” released the year before. But it managed to be charismatic, funny, well-executed, surprisingly insightful, and even romantic rather than lustful, unlike the sleazy teenage sex comedies that were released around the same time as this one. This film is unique and yet still entertaining to teenagers.

But “Risky Business” is mainly well-known for ascending the fame of Tom Cruise. When this was released in 1983, Cruise was regarded as an actor to watch out for—a true movie star. After this movie’s release, his image was everywhere, and his fame would grow and grow and continue to do so.

Cruise plays Joel Goodsen, a suburban Chicago high school senior who always does the right thing, listens to his parents, and has his eyes set on higher academics. But like most teenagers, Joel is worried about his future. In the film’s terrific opening scene, Joel explains to the audience this reoccurring dream he has in which he’s tempted by a beautiful woman before realizing he missed his college-board exams. That’s a common fear among teenage boys—nervousness about taking those tests and worrying that they won’t get to college. Most of us have that going through our mind, along with sex, hence the beautiful woman in the dream.

Joel’s friends are the horny set of teenagers you find in most teenage sex comedies, but they’re still funny and actually pretty likeable. One is Miles (Curtis Armstrong), who gives Joel the advice to just take some chances and “make your move.” Joel starts to take this advice when his parents go out of town for the week—first, he sneaks a drink from the liquor cabinet before taking his father’s Porsche out for a spin. But then thanks to Miles’ persistence, Joel gets in touch with a call-girl named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay). She’s beautiful, sexy, and sweet—and Joel falls for it immediately. After an intimate night, he owes her $300 the next morning. While leaving her alone in his house, he discovers that an important ornament is missing. From here, things take a turn for the unusual and out-of-control status, as Joel encounters Lana’s pimp Guido (Joe Pantoliano), his dad’s Porsche winds up in Lake Michigan, and Joel’s house turns into a brothel for his friends to pay for a night with Lana’s friends/fellow-prostitutes…and also at a time when a Princeton representative (played by Richard Masur) arrives to interview Joel. (I love his line upon meeting Joel, “If this is at all an inconvenient time…”) Joel must get himself out of each and every situation before his parents come home soon.

Joel and Lana’s relationship grows as the movie progresses, and it’s a common male fantasy that a sex expert would fall for a regular guy. That’s only part of “Risky Business’” widespread appeal, which also manages to work in some economic satire in the ways Joel and his friends start a business venture with the “new brothel.” The film is highly stylized, particularly with Joel and Lana’s first sex scene to make it seem more erotic, and has a tempting electro-pop soundtrack that adds to the magnetism of situation after situation.

As for the romance between Joel and Lana, they do share good chemistry together and trust each other with meaningful conversations (though usually followed by sex). But there’s a problem here that helps Joel to grow up after this experience, making “Risky Business” an effective coming-of-age tale—their romance can’t last very long, as Lana must still do her job once this is all over. But there’s no denying that she genuinely does feel something for Joel, which if you think about it makes it even more difficult. (Watch the film’s original ending on the DVD and you’ll see what I mean.

Tom Cruise is this movie. He delivers a highly-magnetic performance with a great deal of charisma and an “average-guy” image, making us like and believe in him throughout the movie. It’s far from difficult to understand why Cruise became a star since then. As for Rebecca De Mornay, she’s very good here as well. Playing a hooker with a good heart, it’s a thankless role, but De Mornay plays it in such a way that makes it far from predictable. She’s not entirely pleasant, despite a pretty face, but she does have her moments of affection that make her not only believable but also complicated. She’s terrific in this movie.

“Risky Business” is a terrific teenage comedy that still holds up today. It’s funny, erotic, appealing, perceptive, and features an impressive leading performance from Tom Cruise that would further lead him to Hollywood stardom.

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