Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

Risky Business

Paul Brickman's 1983 comedy Risky Business has a fair number of iconic scenes—star Tom Cruise dancing in his underwear, Cruise and Rebecca De Mornay making love "on a real train," etc.—but the key scene is quieter. After Cruise listens to high-school friends talk about test scores as a means to getting into the colleges that will give them the earning power they want, he asks, "Doesn't anyone want to accomplish anything, or do we just want to make money?" Everyone gives him a look that suggests he's the only one thinking about anything other than cash. Then he spends the rest of the film learning what making money's all about.


A coming-of-age film that turns Cruise's high-school senior into an accidental pimp after he nervously hires a call girl (De Mornay), Risky Business is partly about how teens grow up, discover desire, and move past the little-kid images that line their parents' homes. But the "business" half of the title is just as important. Forced to embrace his role as a panderer after wrecking his dad's Porsche, Cruise winds up looking at capitalism at its rawest as he joins De Mornay in the "shameless pursuit of material gratification." But eventually, the business gets the better of him, and Cruise is troubled by the suspicion that his relationship with De Mornay might mean nothing more to her than a dollar amount, since she's so adept at putting prices on everything else.

Brickman has so far directed only one other movie—the 1990 drama Men Don't Leave—but he made his debut count. The unearthly electronic score from Tangerine Dream feeds perfectly into a mood that's as much contemplative as comic. Risky Business found its audience as part of a wave of teen comedies, but Cruise's character has more in common with Dustin Hoffman in The Graduate than any of the Porky's horndogs. As the film progresses, he clearly realizes his soul is at stake. If audiences in that material-world decade paid attention, they probably saw a bit of themselves up there.

Key features: A solid commentary with Cruise, Brickman, and producer Jon Avnet. But the best feature is Brickman's original cut, which substantially improves on what made it to theaters.