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Tuesday, June 5, 2012



"You've done a lot of solid work here, but it's just not Ivy League, now is it?"
-- Rutherford

Risky Business is a 1983 drama written and directed by Paul Brickman. It tells the story of Joel Goodsen (Tom Cruise), a high school senior who is left home alone while his parents go on vacation. Always careful not to step on any toes, Joel's friend Miles (Curtis Armstrong) finally talks him into taking a few risks. This leads Joel to calling on call girl Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) who proceeds to steal one of his mother's prized pieces of art. He chases her down and learns that she is trying to escape the clutches of her "manager" Guido (Joe Pantoliano). The two evade capture and begin a working relationship that puts into motion a plan to generate a large amount of revenue for the two of them. At the same time, feelings start to grow between Joel and Lana, and their relationship leads Joel to neglect his studies, forcing his educational prospects to spiral out of control.

When the thought of Risky Business comes to mind, most people are immediately drawn to the iconic dance scene that shows a half-naked Cruise romping around to Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock & Roll." It's an image that's been often parodied, and for that reason, it stands out prominently in our minds. In all reality, it's a somewhat inconsequential scene that occurs towards the film's beginning before we get into the thick of the storyline. Still, any review of Risky Business would be incomplete without a mention of Cruise's rock 'n roll rampage.

I had a little bit of trouble finding a way into Risky Business. It starts out relatively slowly, and there's a dry humor that's difficult to follow at times. From the start, I could only see Cruise's Joel as a whiny teenager trying his best not to get caught with doing anything wrong, but at the same time, I desperately wanted him to break out of his shell and do something for himself for a change. We get an interesting look at the dynamics of his relationship with his parents (portrayed by Nicholas Pryor and Janet Carroll), and it sets the stage for his ultimate unwinding. But the story that follows is a strange one that I admittedly may not fully understand. It tells the tale of Joel's decision to take up a night of prostitution, working as a pimp for Lana and her fellow call girls. The whole idea is tied into the fact that Joel has been trying to prove he can be a successful businessman, but the whole concept just takes a strange turn here and there, and it all left me a little bit perplexed. Maybe this film would have resonated in the capitalist-friendly culture of the early-1980s when it was released, but in today's society, I don't think it would strike as strong a chord as it did back then.

That's probably the one thing that Risky Business definitely has going for it: it has a very 1980s feel to it, and in that respect, it's actually a fascinating look at the lifestyle of a teenager in that time period. Libidos were high and so was the cash flow, but there was still a strong desire to increase personal wealth as well. That's exactly what Risky Business portrays, and for that, it should be applauded.

The acting within the film is decent, although there really isn't anyone blowing away the competition. Cruise does well as our lead, although there were a few times where I simply couldn't stand his presence. He goes between solid and over-the-top, and it doesn't always blend well. That being said, it's still a stronger performance than quite a bit of what we get nowadays. Rebecca De Mornay does well as Lana, bringing a soft but powerful grace to the screen. If anyone steals the show, however, it's Pantoliano in his limited role as one of the film's chief antagonists. He manages to be both funny and menacing, creating a character that's completely believable while being entirely over-the-top. Some of Cruise's on-screen friends make for a few good bits of comedic relief, but there really isn't anyone else worth mention.

At the end of the day, Risky Business is a decent film that wonderfully showcases a specific time period in United States history. Although the storyline often becomes muddled and the acting isn't necessarily top-notch, there are still a few things to like about the story. It just isn't a movie that I'm going to go back and watch over and over again. If you're looking for a movie that features a teenager who goes on a spree after his parents go away, I'd check out the far superior 1986 film, Ferris Bueller's Day Off.

Movie Review Summary
Grade: B-
Should You Watch It? Maybe

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