RISKY BUSINESS is all about risk (if it wasn’t obvious from the film’s title). For straight-laced high school senior Joel (Tom Cruise), risk is like a terrible dragon he has run from over and over. While Joel, with pressure from his high class parents (Nicholas Pryor and Janet Carroll), simply aims to attend an Ivy League behemoth such as Princeton, the young man is also tragically aware of all the vices and fun activities that come to most well off, white young men such as himself in those non-renewable teenage years. Simply put, time is running out for Joel to have some fun and as a wise friend tells him (the shaggy Curtis Armstrong), sometimes you just have to say “What The Fuck?”.

In the hands of director/writer Paul Brickman, RISKY BUSINESS overcomes its exterior gleam as “teenage sex comedy” to meld into a film that is at turns gritty, raunchy, and at times, kind of icky. Brickman’s story reaches for a lot of things; dealing with topics such as sex, sex work, growing up, and even the intricacies of business but throughout all of these ideas, his film never sets a firm grip on any of them. In the film’s earlier portions we follow Joel as he looks to become a “man” in the only a way a teenage boy can: by having sex. This need ends up with him in the clutches of the illuminating and mysterious prostitute Lana (Rebecca De Mornay), where after a rather self-serious sexual rendezvous (accompanied by an equally self-serious if nevertheless dreamy score by Tangerine Dream) between the two of them shifts the story into a simmering romance between the two kids from different tracks (it’s hard to know if Lana is supposed to be Joel’s age or older, either option brings up darker implications that the film never touches on). As the two’s romance heats up, the film takes another shift into the raunchy and outlandish as various hijinks have Joel yearning for cash, pushing him and Lana and Joel’s friends to transform his house into a brothel while his parents are away on vacation.

As the movie shifts from one misadventure to another, the film fails to hit any true high notes in any of its sequences. While Cruise anchors the film well enough, effortlessly moving from a shy and sheltered rich kid to a more confident rich kid, and De Mornay brings a biting self-reliance to her Lana, the central romance between the two fails to elicit much spark due to chemistry and the writing. While, in a delightful surprise, the film isn’t afraid to get a little “real” here or there in its portrayal of a teenager’s life, the way the film handles Lana and her profession feels like a boy’s wet dream in the worst way. And yeah, I get it, it’s a teen sex comedy but Brickman’s story allows for moments that slightly peel at Lana’s past and psychology in a way that seems to attempt to actually humanize her but these moments are few and far between and it never feels that Joel (and the movie at large) views Lana as more than a transactionary partner. Indeed, by the time the film gets to its latter third where Joel’s house is turned into a brothel for all the local high school boys (along with their younger siblings apparently), Brickman has the sequence go by with neither raunch nor substance that a situation like that would call for or benefit from.

While Brickman’s story stays trapped between a raunchy teen sex comedy and a more grounded look at growing pains, RISKY BUSINESS’ visuals make every other teen comedy of that time look like child’s play. With cinematographers Bruce Surtees and Reynaldo Villalobos’s help, capturing the elegance of the Chicago suburbs in addition to the more gritty Chicago city nightscape, Brickman injects his film with stylistic touches such as one crafty sequence that puts viewers in Joel’s POV as he drops off his nagging parents at the airport. With these stylistic tendencies, RISKY BUSINESS feels like a breath of fresh air compared to its other contemporaries’ visual blandness.

All in all, RISKY BUSINESS follows through on its title’s claims. A teen sex comedy on the outside, Brickman and co. nonetheless attempt to elevate a story of a rich kid getting his rocks off into a grander tale of love and the finer dealings of business. While the film ultimately fails to tie these expansive ideas and themes together when all is said and done, the film delivers enough moments that will please those looking for laughs, love, and a quick lesson on making a quick buck.




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Justin Norris

Aspiring Movie Person. To get more personal follow @DaRealZamboni on Twitter.