Risky Business

(1983) *** R
96 min. Warner Bros. Pictures Distribution. Director: Paul Brickman. Cast: Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano, Richard Masur, Bronson Pinchot.

/content/films/3227/13.jpgUltimately, what makes Risky Business a keeper is its mystique. As written and directed by Paul Brickman (Men Don't Leave), the indelible '80s sex comedy is best remembered as the pop hit that made Tom Cruise a star. It's a part of our filmic collective consciousness: Cruise home alone, in an Oxford and tighty-whities, sliding across the floor of his parent's house to the tune of Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll." A Porsche joyride gone wrong. Cruise beaming from behind oversized Ray-Ban sunglasses. Sexy time with Rebecca De Mornay.

It's easy to forget the idiosyncracies of a film that so successfully trades on adolescent male fantasies and nightmares. Seen from an angle, this pop art reveals more thematic riskiness than its cinematic offspring, most obviously the films of John Hughes (whose Ferris Bueller caricatures Risky Business while shamelessly ripping off its jaw-dropping automotive sacrifice) and Luke Greenfield's The Girl Next Door. At heart, Risky Business is a dark satire with disdain for the shallow capitalist values of its teenage hero, Cruise's hot-and-bothered Chicago suburbanite Joel Goodsen. "What every white boy off the lake wants" is not only the literal descriptor for the smoking hot call girl (De Mornay) who becomes the object of Goodsen's affection; by implication, it's also refers to admission into an Ivy League college and the monied creature comforts of his shallow, socially oblivious bourgeois parents. Brickman regards the Reagan-era definitions of success with a tension between American dreams and the Faustian commitment required to achieve them.

Brickman sets the film's dream-like tone by having Joel narrate his vision of a recurring dream-nightmare, in which a sexual fantasy pulls him off the path through college to his expected destination of financial prosperity ("My life is ruined," he concludes of this scenario). A sexual novice, an ashamed Joel proves vulnerable to the advice of his buddy Miles (Curtis Armstrong): "Every now and then, saying 'What the Fuck' brings freedom. Freedom brings opportunity, opportunity brings freedom." With his parents out of town, Joel is goaded first into hosting a call girl and then a party that turns the family home into a temporary brothel. The call girl, Lana, senses her own opportunity for freedom in the naive Joel, who gives her the opportunity to make a play for independence from her pimp (Joe Pantoliano). (Bronson Pinchot also scores a few laughs as another of Joel's friends.)

Though one can easily sympathize and empathize with Joel, his selfish naivete peg him not as a hero, but an anti-hero dangerously in tune with the worst impulses of society. "It was great the way her mind worked," Joel thinks of Lana. "No guilt, no doubts, no fear. None of my specialties. Just this shameless pursuit of immediate material gratification. What a capitalist." The counterpoint of a "free-enterprise" student activity called "Future Enterprisers" to Joel's own extra-curricular acquired skill in working the system (using the resources at his disposal to bribe a Princeton representative, played drily by Richard Masur) demonstrate the fine line between an entrepeneur and a pimp. Finally, a post-rite-of-passage familial confrontation offers a potent metaphor in the mother's superficial concern over a crack in her crystal Steuben egg as she remains clueless to the more substantial crevasse between herself and Joel.

/content/films/3227/14.jpgRisky Business would be a better film if it were less indulgent of its audience and more ruthless in its satire. That it's possible to mistake the film for a masturbatory sex comedy or a good-boy-cuts-loose party comedy dimishes its power. Brickman idealizes the relationship between Lana and Joel as a romance. It's one that's never fully earned, mostly because Brickman pays the briefest of lip service to Lana's combination of shrewdness and unresolved social damage. What the two share seems as much a business arrangement as anything else, fulfilling each's present needs without stoking a deep mutual caring. Perhaps I'm misreading what Brickman intends to be taken simply as an erotic stepping stone, but the sex scenes take on a subjectively transcendent tone that seems the unlikely result of the coupling of a sexually pent-up teen and a jaded prostitute.

The tension of Brickman giving audiences what they want while suggesting the soulful cost of prsosperity keeps Risky Business a cut above its ilk, and the depiction of a young man's crossroads of self-determination has led some to dub Risky Business the next-generation heir to The Graduate. Adding to the mystique are the film's resonant star performances (especially that of a baby-faced Cruise) and the effectively dreamy score by Tangerine Dream. Brickman's delicate directorial touch and use of naturalistic lighting help to put a bit of edge on a film that's an ironic mainstream success; perhaps it's that same edge that has kept the director from having the Hollywood career the picture would seem to have earned him.

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Aspect ratios: 1.85:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Number of discs: 2

Audio: Dolby TrueHD 5.1, Dolby Digital 5.1

Street date: 9/16/2008

Distributor: Warner Home Video

Warner has put together a very nice 25th Anniversary Deluxe Edition of Risky Business on Blu-ray and DVD. Other than a touch of edge enhancement owed to the digital sharpening, the picture quality on high-definition Blu-ray is flawless, delivering a naturally film-like image with accurate color rendering and significant detail. The film has never looked better than than it does here, and probably never will. Likewise, the Dolby TrueHD track (and an accompanying Dolby 5.1 track) leave nothing to be desired in their ideal presentation of the film's dialogue, music and ambient detail, enhanced with the directionality expected by contemporary ears. A second disc includes a Digital Copy of the film.

The new deluxe edition adds, for the first time, a batch of bonus features. After a cute video "Introduction" (1:24), we're treated to a feature-length, Blu-ray exclusive Video Commentary with producer Jon Avnet, writer/director Paul Brickman, and star Tom Cruise. For the most part, the three collaborators keep up a steady stream of reminiscence and genuine reaction to their aging baby, but an icon in the upper left of the screen allows the viewer to skip over the brief gaps (typically only a few seconds long) to the next segment (for whatever reason, a few brief portions of the commentary are audio only). The topics of conversation include the pace and whether or not it's slow in comparison to today's films, Cruise's expressive left ear, and two good anecdotes describing difficulties for the young Cruise. It's interesting to note that while the commentary begins with an unforced tone, tension creeps in, most notably as Brickman addresses how he feels the picture was marred by studio interference. (The commentary is presented as an audio-only feature on the DVD.)

Freshly minted retrospective "The Dream Is Always the Same: The Story of Risky Business" (29:28) gathers Brickman, Cruise, Avnet, Rebecca De Mornay, Curtis Armstrong, Bronson Pinchot, Joe Pantoliano, producer Steve Tisch, directors Amy Heckerling & Cameron Crowe, critic Peter Travers, and Stephen Tropiano, author of Rebels & Chicks: A History of the Hollywood Teen Movie. The impressive gathering in itself speaks for the doc, which also includes outtakes from Cruise's infamous underwear dance.

"Original Screen Tests with Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay" (14:34) includes more retrospective interviews along with the promised archival footage. It's Hollywood history happening before your eyes. Though it's a shame that more excised footage isn't included, we do get a look at the "Director's Cut of the Final Scene of Risky Business" (7:24), a very welcome complement to Brickman's comments on the commentary. All of the above are presented in HD on the Blu-ray, which also includes the film's Theatrical Trailer (1:27). Tom Cruise fans will thrill to seeing this seminal film finally done right as a home video offering.


Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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