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Risky Business

Warner Bros. // R // September 16, 2008
List Price: $28.99 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by Adam Tyner | posted October 1, 2008 | E-mail the Author
"It's what every white boy off the lake wants."

I have to admit it: Risky
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has its feet planted so firmly in pop culture that I'd forgotten what the movie was even about. I don't mean the TV Guide capsule summary of the plot -- y'know, Tom Cruise playing an enterprising high schooler who turns his ritzy house into a brothel after his parents head out of town -- I mean that all I really remembered about it were the few scattered moments everyone remembers: Tom Cruise -- wearing a dress shirt, a pair of socks, and not a whole hell of a lot else -- skidding across the hall of an otherwise empty house, mock-screaming Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock and Roll" into a candle holder...schmoozing some schlub from Princeton's admissions office while high-end hookers fresh out of Frederick's of Hollywood keep parading through to see if the room's empty...going at it with his call girl lover on the El Train...

I grew up with Risky Business, but I was too young to appreciate it as anything more than just another sex comedy. Watching it again through more adult eyes, I can see the movie for what it really is: a sharply directed and surprisingly incisive coming-of-age story set against the backdrop of a decade defined by greed and excess.

Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise) is a nice guy. He does alright in school, his parents trust him well enough, he shies away from naughty words even when his folks aren't in earshot, but...well, he's not the type to take risks. C'mon, though: it's his senior year of high school, and his pal Miles (Curtis Armstrong) decides to help him out the way any good friend would when he finds out Joel's family has headed out of town: he prods and pokes at him to call a hooker. Joel eventually gives in and dials up Lana (Rebecca De Mornay), a perfect ten who can put a price tag on anything, including herself. Thanks to a snatched glass egg, a sopping-wet Porsche, and Guido the Killer Pimp (Joe Pantoliano), Joel reluctantly turns his parents' posh estate into a brothel, learning a whole hell of a lot more about free enterprise than he ever did in high school.

That skeleton
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of a plot could've been filled in with jiggling sight gags and booze-soaked pratfalls like all the other double-digit IQ sex comedies churned out in the wake of Porky's, but first-time director Paul Brickman took Risky Business in an altogether different direction. There are a few solid laughs, a decent amount of skin, some scorching sex scenes, and...hell, even a car chase, but Brickman doesn't lean on those as a crutch, instead framing them around a sharply written and artfully shot coming-of-age tale. It's a story in large part about the corruptive influence of money without ever feeling like a double-underlined moral lesson, and much of the imagery symbolizing Joel's loss of innocence -- a call girl stepping out of the way to reveal a childhood picture and a bicycle tumbling over in the wind, for instance -- is evocative but remarkably subtle. Risky Business is still a nostalgic rush and a lot of fun, but there's a depth and intelligence that make for more than just tits, ass, and easy laughs, elevating it above the dreck of other early '80s sex comedies like Private School.

Risky Business is more than just a nostalgic rush or an iconic, half-nekkid skid down a hallway. A teen movie that delivers on T&A and laughs without pandering, Risky Business is incisive, sexy, stylish, and sharply written, and it's a movie that's well-worth rediscovering on Blu-ray. Highly Recommended.

Video: Risky Business looks decent enough on Blu-ray, but it doesn't rank as one of Warner's more impressive catalog titles. The image tends to be fairly soft, particularly in the night exteriors, and it's saddled with slightly murky photography that screams early '80s. Colors are generally drab, but a few hues -- greens and reds, especially -- pack a bit more of a punch than I'd expect from a DVD. Clarity and fine detail are unexceptional but also a marked step up over a standard def release. Weak black levels, on the other hand, flatten out the image and don't offer much in the way of depth or dimensionality. A
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thin sheen of grain is visible but never distracting, and I didn't spot any wear or speckling. Risky Business looks fine in high-def -- pretty much on target with what I went in expecting -- but this Blu-ray disc does look like the movie's ringing in its twenty-fifth anniversary.

The mattes have been opened slightly for this new transfer of Risky Business, which is presented at an aspect ratio of 1.78:1. The movie has been encoded with Warner's preferred codec, VC-1, and it's offered up on a dual-layer Blu-ray disc.

Audio: Risky Business serves up two 5.1 mixes -- one in lossy Dolby Digital and the other in 16-bit Dolby TrueHD -- but switching back and forth between them, I really couldn't pick out any difference at all. The surrounds are reserved primarily for lightly reinforcing the licensed rock and Tangerine Dream's banks of synths, and there's no real heft to the lower frequencies. The film's dialogue is reproduced well enough, although there is a dated, slightly strained quality to it. While it's nice to see Warner give a catalog title like this the lossless treatment on Blu-ray, it really doesn't seem to have made much of a difference in this case. Risky Business sounds alright, but it's a DVD-quality mix.

Also included are Dolby Digital 2.0 dubs in French and Spanish as well as subtitle streams in English (SDH), French, and Spanish.

Extras: Virtually all of the extras on this special edition of Risky Business are presented in high definition, including the highlight of the disc: the
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film's original ending. While the differences between the two may not seem dramatic at first glance, the original ending as written by Paul Brickman is much more bittersweet and in keeping with the trajectory Risky Business had taken for the previous hour and a half. This alternate ending runs seven and a half minutes in length, although oddly, much of that time is devoted to the end credits that run in full afterwards. I'm not sure why Warner didn't turn to some sort of seamless branching so the movie could be watched in its entirety as originally intended, but it's wonderful to have this footage available at all, especially in such high quality.

The half-hour retrospective "The Dream is Always the Same: The Story of Risky Business" features interviews with writer/director Paul Brickman, producers Jon Avnet and Steve Tisch, and actors Tom Cruise, Bronson Pinchot, Curtis Armstrong, Rebecca De Mornay, and Joe Pantoliano along with Cameron Crowe, Amy Heckerling, teen movie expert Stephen Tropiano, and Rolling Stone critic Peter Travers. This featurette leans away from the nuts and bolts of the shoot itself, preferring to focus on getting the movie off the ground, period, running through what Brickman set out to accomplish with Risky Business, and lobbing out a few great stories from back when cameras were rolling. Some of the highlights include studios hoping for something a whole hell of a lot more like Porky's, Tom Cruise meeting for the part while still ripped, tattooed, and sopping with grease from the set of The Outsiders, collaborating with Tangerine Dream in Berlin to write the film's score, shaping a dreamlike visual style with a first-time director and a set of three cinematographers, and struggling with the studio over the ending. While I think I would've liked to have seen more of some of the other interviewees instead of continually turning to the same few again and again, I really enjoyed "The Dream...". It's comprehensive and really not weighed down by any filler at all.

Excerpted in the featurette is a snippet of Tom Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay's early morning screentest together, and it's presented in full on this Blu-ray disc. The actual screentest was shot on fairly rough looking video, and it's obviously presented in standard definition, but the retrospective interviews from Heckerling, Tisch,
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Brickman, Avnet, Cruise, and De Mornay are all in 1080i. The screentest runs just under 12 minutes, and it's preceded by three and a half minutes of interviews.

The audio commentary from the DVD is spiffed-up on Blu-ray. Instead of just a few disembodied voices, this disc has picture-in-picture video of Brickman, Avnet, and Cruise as they record the commentary. It's an above-average commentary as it is, but there's something about seeing their facial expressions and reactions that makes it seem a lot more compelling than usual. Several of the stories the three of them belt out are covered elsewhere on the disc, but the personalities and additional depth make it well worth a look. Some of the topics include comparing and contrasting Risky Business with The Graduate, Cruise's anxiety in his first starring role, researching the story by interviewing hopelessly naive call girls from the Midwest, whether or not this role influenced Cruise's turn in Jerry Maguire, the unrecognizably different and borderline-surreal original concept for the train sequence, and even pointing out Megan Mullally as one of, escorts. There are also discussions about tone, pacing, marketing headaches, Cruise's approach to acting when acting under a writer/director with such a clear vision of what he wants, and their reactions to seeing the movie for the first time. They keep the conversation going for 100 minutes straight, and the commentary really isn't marred by any dead air or uncomfortable gaps of silence. I liked this commentary quite a bit, and I think the picture-in-picture video just accentuated its strengths. I wouldn't mind seeing that be standard at some point down the road.

There's also a minute and a half introduction to the commentary with the three of them briefly palling around. The standard definition extra on this Blu-ray disc is Risky Business' theatrical trailer, and a second disc includes a digital copy of the movie for iPods and Windows Media devices.

Conclusion: An artful, intelligent, and smolderingly sexy coming-of-age satire -- think The Graduate for the Me! Me! Me! generation -- Risky Business holds up twenty-five years later as much more than just a pop culture touchstone or a burst of '80s nostalgia. Warner's given the movie a pretty solid special edition release on Blu-ray, and it's backed by high definition extras across the board and a decent new 1080p transfer. Highly Recommended.
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Highly Recommended

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