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Risky Business
Savant Blu-ray Review

Risky Business
Warner Home Entertainment
1983 /Color / 1:85 widescreen / 98 min. / Street Date September 16, 2008 / 28.99
Starring Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay, Joe Pantoliano, Richard Masur, Bronson Pinchot, Curtis Armstrong, Nicholas Pryor, Janet Carroll, Shera Danese, Raphael Sbarge
Bruce Surtees, Reynaldo Villalobos
Production Design William J. Cassidy
Film Editor Richard Chew
Original Music Tangerine Dream
Produced by John Avnet, Steve Tisch
Written and Directed by Paul Brickman

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Every Hollywood producer wants his movie to come together like Risky Business, an ambitious teen comedy that pushed all the right buttons to become a surprise hit. A smart production team gambled on two relative unknowns and made both of them into instant stars. Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay practically shoot sparks off the screen, elevating a tale of horny high school seniors into something much more memorable.

The added resolution of Warner Home Video's Blu-ray release of Risky Business makes Cruise and DeMornay look even more attractive.

Compared to today's teen comedies, 1983's Risky Business is a model of restraint. Living in a sheltered, wealthy neighborhood "off the lake" in Chicago, high school senior Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise) would like to indulge in the sexual adventures boasted by his friends, but he's afraid to jeopardize his chances of getting accepted to Princeton. When his parents go out of town, Joel sneaks out in his dad's priceless Porsche but otherwise obeys the house rules. Then his wiseass friend Miles (Curtis Armstrong) phones a number in the sex ads, and the irresistible Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) appears on Joel's doorstep. The light of day finds Joel struggling to scrape up Lana's $300 fee, an effort complicated by Lana's gun-toting "manager" Guido (Joe Pantoliano). A freak accident dunks dad's Porsche in Lake Michigan, leading indirectly to Joel's suspension from school. But the understanding Lana has a plan. If Joel will turn his parents' house into a one-night bordello for Lana's call girl friends, all of their problems can be solved at once.

The star-making performances by Cruse and De Mornay raise Risky Business several cuts above the average teen comedy. Paul Brickman's slick direction has a touch of The Graduate but also the 80's feel of Michael Mann, with its urban night exteriors and Tangerine Dream music score. The Geffen Company also secured a high-powered soundtrack featuring talents like Bruce Springsteen, Sting and Phil Collins.

Brickman's script pegs the sex-themed daydreams of male adolescents, as Joel indulges masturbatory fantasies of girls in showers and babysitters on the dinette table. Before Lana's entrance Joel seems almost a gay fantasy figure, responding to his friends' lewd stories with a boyish grin and dancing in his underwear to Bob Seger. With the arrival of Lana, the whole movie becomes a fantasy. The transvestite hooker seems to read Joel's mind as he writes out Lana's phone number: "It's what you want. It's what every white boy off the lake wants." Cooler than cool, Lana personifies the fantasy of the "fun" prostitute. Immorality has no consequences and no victims; Joel's problems boil down to the imperative of Not Getting Caught.

Joel's flirtation with teen disaster is certainly funny, a nightmare of irresponsibility any kid can understand. How can Joel hide his mishap with daddy's car ("Who's the U-Boat Commander?") or get Mom's priceless crystal egg back -- when Lana's pimp is holding it for ransom?

The thorough 25th Anniversary making-of docu included on the disc recounts Risky Business 's shaky genesis: when the shooting stopped, the filmmakers were far from convinced it would be successful. The producers overstate the film's relevance, calling it an artistic triumph and a profound commentary on 80's values. It's polished and entertaining, which should be enough. Tangerine Dream makes anything sound "artistic". Reagan-era values are expressed but they certainly aren't questioned. Joel makes a casual joke out of the idea of serving mankind instead of making money; his "Future Enterpriser" school club proves mainly that real productivity a sham. Joel's parentally mandated mission is to get an Ivy League diploma and position himself in a profit center. Risky Business's comedy is based on the guilt of affluence, the scary idea that one of the Privileged might lose his privileges. The witty script has plenty of subtext but avoids pretentious message making.

Another extra is writer-director Brickman's original ending. The film now ends with a sexy exchange that makes it look as if Joel and Lana's unlikely romance will continue indefinitely. Brickman's rejected finish is better, but it points to a serious message that hasn't been sold. Risky Business charms with its provocative sex fantasy, not its philosophy. What we really remember is the gratuitous sex scene in the train, put there to showcase another great song (Phil Collins) and keep the final act's hormones in motion.

The youthful energy of Rebecca De Mornay and Tom Cruise give the comedy its edge, and Brickman has the sensitivity not to interpret their characters from an older perspective -- although the funniest joke is worthy of Woody Allen. Joel asks Lana not to let her hooker friends dress in his Mom's clothing, saying, "I don't want to spend the rest of my days in analysis!"

New interviews allow Cruise and De Mornay to comment on their original screen tests, while the filmmakers are candid about "accidents" that became part of the film. Posing as a cool cat in shades with a cigarette dangling from his lips, Cruise plays Joel as both cute and innocent. In his signature moment admitting defeat with Richard Masur's Princeton interviewer, Cruise thought he blew the line "Looks like University of Illinois!" and made a goofy face. It looked terrific in dailies, and Brickman kept it!

Warners' Blu-ray of Risky Business is sharp and clean, with grain-free night scenes that match the film's original theatrical prints. The audio is in 5.1 Dolby Digital, flattering the many soundtrack pop songs.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Risky Business Blu-ray rates:
Movie: Very Good ++
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: 25th Anniversary Docu, Screen Tests, alternate ending, Trailer
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: September 30, 2008

Republished by permission of Turner Classic Movies.

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2008 Glenn Erickson

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