Monday, July 27, 2009

Risky Business (1983)

By Eric Jessen 7/26/09

Risky Business: an unbelievable accomplishment, I didn't know it was possible. Paul Brickmen, wacky tacky Tom Cruise, Rebecca De Mornay and company, have made a wholesome, bland, flat, lifeless movie about a 17 year old gyrating in his skivvies, flying around in a Porsche, becoming a whorehouse pimp, and having sex with a prostitute on a dirty subway. The script is smart and funny, the direction is stylish and efficient, the acting is relatively strong, and yet the movie is still so dull, trapped in a shell, unwilling to toy, jab, or titillate the audience. The movie moves quickly but lacks a joyous ride. In fact it sits still because it's predictable. We know it's too cute and clean to take chances. Each element, the actors, the style......lack a key trait that strips them of any possible edginess and strips the audience of uncertainty.
Joel (Tom Cruise) is our 17 year old boy wonder: Crew cut and colored shirt while around his parents - black shades, T-shirt and black blazer while around his call girls. At first he's just a timid, shy loser. He seems completely unwilling to risk his sterile life. But when his parents leave for a vacation and his friends suggest he say, “what the fu—” and have some fun, in a flash he's in a heap of trouble: a six foot tall manly looking prostitute named Vicki is knocking on the door (she's disgusting and exactly right), pimps and prostitutes are crowding his bedroom and stealing furniture. Risky Business has a classic Ferris Bueller's Day Off, teen movie construction - have as much fun, or get in as much trouble as possible, then have the house ready, spic and span, before your parents get home - except with more interesting elements: prostitutes, pimps and unprotected sex, oh my! And still, it's humdrum, commercial film making. It could have been a great, exploitive, trashy, but fun movie. Why wasn't it? Let's play the blame game.
Let's first consider the actors. Tom Cruise is our star. He smiles and winks, worries, mopes and whines, all at the right time, but never embarrassing himself, never looking stupid, desperate. His lust is a tease, his angry is a tizzy, his passion is semi-serious, mostly passionless. Although, for playing a teenager, he's not far off (they don't yet know how to show intensity, they haven't had enough experiences to be bitter and ornery). It's his supporting cast that deserves the bulk of my derision. Our co-star, Rebecca De Mornay, is Lana, the call girl who uses/falls in love with Joel. She's the most pristine looking, well mannered, innocent prostitute I've ever seen in a movie. She lacks an appearance or air of anguish and sleazy wisdom. The other bad performance (or bad casting) was Curtis Armstrong as the pimp. He just looks stupid and not at all threatening.
Next up, the direction. Brickmen made many decisions that left no room for ambiguity or suspense in the story, and he never forced his actors to get down and dirty, even in the superficial sex scenes. For example, we never see Lana scrape, claw, or look disheveled. She never fights with her pimp who she called “crazy.” After Joel is thrown into a river, we don't see him wet, and when he's angry we don't see him smash things, or act out. After a night of torture, Joel storms into Lana's apartment and gives her a hug, weeping. I threw my arms in the air, shook my head, saying to myself “that was SO lame.”
Finally I'll place some blame on the producers and distributors. Apparently they removed a melancholy ending in favor of a happy, all is well, one. No wonder I was left feeling cheated. The ending made me think there was no point to the entire movie because his “risky business” had no consequences.
Risky Business is so glossy and mainstream that it's easy to watch. It presents nothing that digs deep, taking no chances even with seemingly provocative material, that it's a template for future box-office hits and a warning for what's wrong with many movies.

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