Joel Goodsen (Cruise) is a high school senior who is tired of being Mr. All American. He was facing ‘traumatic' decisions, such as "Which ivy league college to attend". His life takes a totally unexpected turn when he meets a sexy call girl (Rebecca De Mornay) who transforms his house into a brothel while his parents are away, and at the same time transforms his entire perspective.
For its time, I think the story was a little surprising; it was almost cynical. At the end, the father comes through with his own rendition of the catch phrase making adults not completely clueless. It's almost dark; Cruise failed to get into Princeton in the original ending -- the studio wanted an upbeat ending. It is not exactly a high school film in the way its spiritual brothers, The Breakfast Club and Day Off were -- the school isn't central--but it is a coming-of-age story; and it's about getting into college and growing up (and how those two relate to each other).
Notable for Business is Tom Cruise's breakout performance. He underwent intense training seven days a week and then, after losing lots of weight, binged on fatty foods to add a layer of "baby fat" to give him the fresh-faced look. His now famous Old Time Rock And Roll dancing scene (in underwear) was completely improvised. He was cocky, sure--a trait that he banked on three years later for Top Gun, The Color of Money, and then a couple years after for Cocktail -- but he also came out with enough range to be sympathetic despite having "problems" that a lot of people would envy!
The story, by Paul Brickman, who has one other directing credit (1990's Men Don't Leave) is at the very least interesting: a promising rich high school student is left alone at home and moves from simply being free of parental constraints to actual misbehavior (racing his father's Porsche -- the sound crew modified one to make it far louder than a stock model), to life-damaging decisions (hiring prostitutes, getting chased by a murderous pimp, and so on). The question is whether or not he will pay the price for his indiscretions or whether he will escape unharmed. As I noted, the original script went one way and the movie goes another. That was probably a good move: I doubt Risky Business would have been a classic as a morality tale -- instead it fit the zeitgeist of 80's perfectly when the final reel ends.
One of the real gems of this new 25th Anniversary DVD set is "The Dream is Always the Same": The Story of Risky Business. This documentary provides great insight into all the hurdles Risky Business encountered on its way to the silver screen, with interviews with all the main cast members and Paul Brickman.
The other great addition to this 80's classic is the original ending that Paul Brickman wanted the audience to see in the film. The original ending, as shot by Brickman, had Joel Goodsen being shown as the strong one and Lana the weak one. However, the studios wanted a happier ending and changed it before it was sent to theaters.
I think that today I would wonder what message Risky Business would send to people in early high school (which is where I was when it came out). The eighties have been classified as the "greed" decade and, indeed, everything Cruise does in the movie is partially motivated by ambition (well, and hormones). It's impossible for me to watch the movie "for the first time" but I suspect that Cruise's character might seem a lot more self-centered than he did in 1983 (in the dialog quoted above, Joel -- the Cruise character--states that he does want to help his fellow man ... that may have cut it in 1983, it might not today).
It's also noteworthy to see how the high school genre has evolved somewhat in two decades. Cruise in Risky Business was actually innocent. He may not have been pure of heart, but he wasn't worldly. He was out of his depth all over the place -- and the real world was a scary place if you weren't prepared. Lana, the prostitute, tells Cruise "Oh, Joel, go to school. Learn something," which really, pretty much tells you where he stands on the food chain (it seems he may outfox the pimp Guido -- but in the end, he's the one spending all his money to buy back his own furniture). I think that today we would be more likely to see high school kids as the hip ones who know what's really going on and the adults as, perhaps, even more clueless than Joel's dad.
But that's all a guess. For now, twenty-five years after its release, Risky Business is simply a classic; and it will need to be watched as such. There is now finally a DVD which does this classic movie justice.