a critiQal film review Risky Business (1983)

  • DVD
  • Blu-Ray

Plot: Joel Goodsen (Cruise) is a high school senior who is tired of being Mr. All-American, facing 'traumatic' decisions such as which Ivy League college to attend. His life takes a totally unexpected turn when he meets a sexy call girl (DeMornay) who turns his house into a brothel while his parents are away, and at the same time transforms his entire perspective.

761 words (Est. Reading Time 3m 48s)

Back in the 80’s, Tom Cruise seemed to be everywhere. Military drama/romance Top Gun (1986). Pool hustling with Paul Newman in The Color of Money. Exploiting his autistic brother Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man (1988). Bartending for Elisabeth Shue in Cocktail. Wherever you looked, Tom Cruise was there in the 80’s. But, his first big shot to stardom was starring with Rebecca De Mornay in a film called Risky Business.

More than 25 years after it’s release, would Risky Business still be able to prove itself for new viewers, or is this risque film of the 80’s too tame and lame for today’s viewer?

Tom Cruise, looking extremely young, embodies the role of goody-two-shoes high school senior Joel Goodsen. Whether he’s fretting about his grades or completely out-of-his depth around street-smart folks like Guido the pimp (played decently, if not entirely convincingly, by Joe Pantoliano) or Lana the call girl (DeMornay), the viewer completely believes him as the character. Maybe it’s just the fame hadn’t quite gotten to his head yet, and he still retained a freshness forgotten by films like Cocktail even a few years later. Or, maybe he was just that good back in ’83. Either way, the viewer buys him being out of his depth in real-life situations despite his every effort.

Rebecca De Mornay is a different story. There’s a shadiness to the character she plays, even setting her profession of call girl aside. Still, the viewer never quite trusts her, and can’t believe the naivete of Joel’s character, who is willing to put his trust in her time and again, despite always getting burned. Maybe it’s her shifty attitude, or maybe it’s just the viewer never quite believes she’s just a call girl, despite the gal’s best efforts.

The basic setup is pretty simple – goody-two-shoes boy goes off the deep end when given a bit of freedom. It’s been done again and again, and seems a cliche by this point, but back in ’83, it still seemed like a fresh plot device. Unfortunately, the success of Risky Business caused quite a few copycats, and has run the idea so far into the ground the viewer groans a little when they realize it’s the basis for the plot.

Still, first-time director Paul Brickman (directing from his own script) does a decent job of making the film entertaining and a bit offbeat. While everyone is familiar with the underwear-dancing sequence by this point, the film turns out to be much more than that little snippet, taking a turn off the beaten path early on, and never quite ending up where the viewer expects. True, most of the plot points during the course of the film are easily figured out, and the dangers (as is usual for most non-supernatural teen flicks), are greatly exaggerated, giving the film a rather simplistic feel, despite it’s seemingly graphic nature.

The sex, other than a few sequences, is more talked about than witnessed, and so viewers worrying about watching a porn masquerading as a film (which is what semi-remake The Girl Next Door (2004) seemed to be), should have their fears assuaged after a first steamy encounter between Joel and Lana.

Instead, the film aims for a more cerebral, rather than visual, approach, using the sex more as a means to an end, rather than an end itself. Instead, the film keeps the viewer guessing about the motives of the people Joel finds himself involved in throughout the film. From the moment he comes out of a deep sleep to find Lana entering his living room, the viewer isn’t sure if Joel is dreaming, or if what is happening is real, and that’s exactly how the movie wants it.

Is Risky Business just the bizarre fantasy of high school teen Joel, or are these trials and tribulations actually happening? The movie never quite answers that question, thankfully, so the oddly meshing circumstances are more easily accepted by the viewer. Toss in a who-do-you-trust scenario, and Risky Business provides far more entertainment value than one would expect…and should keep viewers still buzzing offhandedly about it once the movie comes to a close.

An unexpectedly decent foray into the life and times of one carried-away high school teen and the call girl of his dreams, Risky Business can still provide entertainment more than a quarter century after it’s release. And that’s even while viewers scoff at the ridiculously over-sized 80’s-era sunglasses and the incredible naivete of young Joel Goodsen…and miss the days when Cruise was still able to bring a touch of youthful innocence to the screen.

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