Untimely Movie Review: Risky Business

Risky Business is a weird movie.

It gets a lot of things right, but, even within the context of 80s teenage-themed films, I don’t think it holds up particularly well.  It’s not as entertaining as the John Hughes canon.  It’s not as compelling as Fast Times at Ridgemont High.  I’m not even sure it’s the best movie about high school that Tom Cruise made in 1983!

Ok, maybe it is a lot sharper than All the Right Moves.  Either way, it’s certainly fair to say that Risky Business is the movie that made Tom Cruise a huge star, and it’s rightly remembered as a milestone in that regard.

But the premise of the film is ridiculous.

Tom Cruise stars as Joel Goodson (sidebar: could the character’s name be more on-the-nose?), as a straight-laced, above-average student in high school, can’t bring himself to have sex with his available selection of women, and, on a semi-whim, decides to hire a call girl.

Already, we’ve got problems.

It gets more absurd from there, to the point that I think the movie actually works better if you assume that everything that happens after Cruise places that phone call and falls asleep is, in fact, a dream.  Let’s say, then, that the girl never shows up, and, instead, everything about Lana and the car chase and the one-night(!) brothel and the Princeton interview was all a figment of Joel’s REM sleep.

That idea would even “work” within the context of the film, as Cruise’s character begins the movie by telling his friends about a recurring dream he’s having that ends with him unable to reach a desirable woman, only to find himself showing up late for his SATs.

That is more or less a condensed version of the plot that follows.  Joel meets Lana, and his entire life falls apart—and, of course, everything quite implausibly works out in the end.  The movie is also practically built around two absurd sex scenes, which, again, come across almost as fantasy or a dream.

Thus, let’s go with that idea—when Lana shows up after Joel falls asleep on the sofa, everything from that point forward is a dream.  And, when Joel eventually wakes up, he finishes up a solid senior year without incident and goes on to the University of Illinois.

That works, right?

Oddly, this movie is highly critically acclaimed, holding a very strong 92 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes.  Short of The Last Jedi, I’m not sure I can think of another film where my view was so far beneath that of the critics.

It isn’t that Risky Business is bad.  The performances are quite good, especially Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay, and the script is solid.  The movie is well-shot and well-directed, except for a couple of minor-but-noticeable continuity errors.

Yet, I just can’t get past the story.  It is fairly absurd, but it pairs that absurdity with a generally sincere tone that just didn’t mesh for me.

I want to make it clear that I certainly don’t think this is a bad movie.  I just think there’s a chasm between my opinion of the film (B-minus, perhaps) and the critics (who are solidly in “A” territory).

The commentary feature, which includes Cruise himself, on-camera, is very much worthwhile.  It also raises a point about the original ending of the film, which is likewise included as a special feature.  That ending is darker, not nearly as fun, but also somehow seems to include a greater truth.

Would I have liked the film better if it concluded with that tone instead of a carefree stroll through a Chicago park at night?  Maybe, maybe not.  But it’s definitely a somewhat different film with that ending.

Of the films in the Warner Bros. 50 Film Collection so far, I would rate Risky Business in the lower tier.  Again, though, the competition is stiff, so that isn’t as much of a knock as it seems.  It’s a decent movie that, to me, is memorable primarily for its star-making impact on Cruise, and not too much else.

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