Risky Business (1983)

Risky Business (1983)

“Are you ready for me?”

While his parents are away, teenager Joel Goodson (Tom Cruise) spends the night with an entrepreneurial call girl named Lana (Rebecca De Mornay), who convinces him to turn his house into a temporary brothel.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Get Rich Quick
  • Prostitutes
  • Teenagers
  • Tom Cruise Films

Response to Peary’s Review:
Along with many other critics (see links below), Peary heaps praise upon this early Tom Cruise teenage sex comedy, calling it “very funny, extremely erotic — and smart.” Indeed, there’s much to recommend about the film: both Cruise and De Mornay do a fine, believable job in their roles; there are plenty of humorous lines (“I’ve got a trig midterm tomorrow, and I’m being chased by Guido the killer pimp!”); and there are several classic (if not entirely amusing) moments, such as when Cruise rocks out in his BVDs after his parents are gone.

With that said, however, Risky Business ultimately comes across as too much of an adolescent-male wish-fulfillment fantasy to hold universal appeal. The women in the film — seen from Joel’s point of view — are all either sex objects (like Lana and her friends) or nagging maternal figures (such as Joel’s overprotective mom, or the nurse who refuses to write him an excuse at school). Lana herself symbolizes every guy’s worst fear: a woman so sexually irresistible that she can lure a “good son” (Joel’s last name is “Goodson”) to his doom — though ultimately, of course, our young “hero” will prevail. Even her much ballyhooed entrance — filmed as an ethereal, mist-filled sequence, with Tangerine Dream’s soundtrack pulsing in the background — clearly posits Lana as an other-worldly siren with supernatural powers. This smart, sexy, interesting character (she has a back story) is ultimately not given her due; I’d love to see Risky Business shown from her perspective.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rebecca De Mornay as the seductive call girl
  • Tom Cruise as the fresh-faced teen whose greatest fantasies and worst nightmares all come true
  • Joe Pantoliano (of The Matrix and Memento fame) as DeMornay’s “killer pimp”, Guido
  • An effectively dream-like soundtrack by Tangerine Dream

Must See?
Yes. This film remains an icon of early 1980s cinema.


  • Historically Relevant


One thought on “Risky Business (1983)

  1. A once-must, as a representative film of the ’80s.

    That said… I’m not a fan. Those who know me well know I’m not a Tom Cruise fan. That’s not just because I find him creepy in real life; I wasn’t that big on him before (ubiquitous) word starting getting out about his, um… ‘eccentricity’.

    I hadn’t seen this film since its release – but seeing it again sort of solidified my main gripe with it. It purports to be a ‘satire’ of capitalism – but I think the film actually promotes capitalism and isn’t (at all) poking fun at it.

    There’s something vaguely Republican about this film (so I see it as sort-of instructive, but not for reasons the film intends). Take, for example, the significant scene in which the recruiter from Princeton interviews Joel (Cruise) while there’s a party going on at his house. While, at first, the recruiter tells Joel that he’s somewhat impressive but not Ivy League material, we learn at the end of the film that the recruiter decided to admit Joel anyway… because, we’re led to believe, the recruiter got laid by at least one of the hookers. (If you want to get ahead, ‘buy’ your way in: much more Republican than Democrat.)

    For that and other similar reasons, I find the film somewhat icky.

    Writer / director Brickman did not (of course) like the fact that the studio insisted on a happy ending (his original ending is an extra on the 25th anniversary DVD). But I’m sure a happy (and sappy) conclusion helped secure the film’s sleeper success.

    In 1990, Brickman gave us his only other feature-length film as writer / director: ‘Men Don’t Leave’. It under-performed at the box office, not making back its budget. But it has a fine performance by Jessica Lange – and is actually a better film than ‘RB’.

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