On DVD: Risky Business Turns 25

Celebrating the birthday of Risky Business, Warner Home Video has released a "25th Anniversary Edition" with a fair amount of bells and whistles attached. The enhanced widescreen transfer is the best we've seen so far in the various incarnations of the film from VHS through early DVD, and the new extras, featuring breakout star Tom Cruise and others, are plentiful.

What is there to say about Risky Business on the 25th anniversary of its release? Here's one: if you're over 35 years old, the fact that it came out a quarter of a century ago might make you feel really, really old.

The thing about Risky Business is that it absolutely shouldn't have been as good as it was. When it was released in 1983, the market for teen comedies had been saturated with puerile crap, all based loosely on the model that had begun with Porky's in 1982 -- clumsy, crude, uninteresting variations on the theme of teen boys gettin' them some. The films were cheap to produce, low on star power, and made lots of money from a mostly male audience looking to ogle nekkid breasts and guffaw at guys getting caught with their pants down.

Into this tawdy genre stepped writer/director Paul Brickman, who had previously written the unfortunate The Bad News Bears in Breaking Training and Jonathan Demme's criminally underrated Citizens Band (later retitled Handle with Care). Going purely by its synopsis, Brickman's tale of a teenage boy left alone for a week, who trashes his dad's sports car and ends up pimping call girls to his wealthy suburbanite friends to pay to have it fixed, sounds like just more of the same old sniggering lad's fantasy. But Brickman managed to craft an elegant, funny, complex film about adolescence that transcended genre, a satiric comedy about teenage sex that didn't condescend to the lowest denominator.

If you have somehow managed to never see Risky Business, you've missed a true gem of a film. Nineteen-year-old Tom Cruise, who was generating some industry buzz thanks to his roles in Taps and The Outsiders, plays Joel Goodsen, a Princeton-bound college senior who is, indeed, the epitome of the Good Son. He's a member of the Young Entrepreneurs club, a straight-A straight arrow, and infinitely trustworthy in the eyes of his upper-middle-class folks (Nicholas Pryor and Janet Carroll, both hilariously sincere as the parental unit). But he's still a teenage boy -- so once Mom and Dad are gone, he strips down to his underpants (the iconic dance scene to Bob Seger's "Old Time Rock 'n Roll"), opens the liquor cabinet, and takes his father's off-limits Porsche out for a drive. Then Joel calls an outcall service, and nervously awaits his "date" -- but when "Jackie" turns out to be more of a Jack, the hustler takes pity on the poor, green kid and gives Joel the number for a hooker named Lana, promising that he won't be disappointed.

And he's not. Lana (Rebecca De Mornay) is every boy's fantasy, and she gives him the night of his life. But having opened Pandora's box, things begin to spin out of control, and after a convoluted (yet adeptly plotted) series of events, Joel ends up teaming with Lana to introduce her courtesan friends to his buddies. It's a scheme that works out nicely for everyone, until Lana's pimp, Guido (Joe Pantoliano) arrives on the scene.

None of which really explains the appeal of Risky Business, however. Critics have compared it to The Graduate, and it's apt. There's an edgy quality to both films, a darker sensibility and a wit to the dialog that elevates them above their storylines. Common to both is a mounting sense of danger, that the main character is becoming entangled in something that's out of his control. They're both existential comedies, really, in which the protagonists lose their innocence in far more ways than just sexual. At the same time, Risky Business is really, really funny. Brickman somehow managed to get an existential black comedy produced as a teen sex romp, and to the credit of the movie-going public, it was appreciated at the box office.

The casting of then-unknowns is also profoundly spot-on, and Brickman pulled amazing performances from De Mornay and Cruise, turning what could have been cardboard characters into breathing, likable people with flaws and distinctive quirks. Watching Risky Business is a reminder that Cruise has always been a phenomenally talented actor, even in his early years, and that no amount of Oprah-couch-jumping, Scientology-spouting crazy changes that fact. Ironically, Cruise seems to be returning to his comedic side with small roles in pictures like Tropic Thunder as a way to win back public affection. Perhaps another look at him dancing in his underwear might heal some of the damage as well.

Risky Business Tom Cruise Rebecca De Mornay

As mentioned at the top, Warner Home Video's new "Deluxe" DVD and Blu-ray edition gives us Risky Business with a clean image presenting nicely saturated color and excellent shadow in the darker scenes. The remastered Dolby 5.1 audio is clean but unspectacular, as this is a pre-surround-sound production.

The new extras start with an audio commentary track with Cruise, Brickman, and producer Jon Avnet. It's a little backslappy and casual, lacking in the sort of meaty production details that would have made it really valuable, but it's amiable enough.

There's also a new 29-minute featurette, The Dream is Always the Same: The Story of Risky Business, covering all of the usual "making-of" territory from casting through release. A number of odd talking heads appear, such as Cameron Crowe and Amy Heckerling, as part of the whole "isn't this movie iconic?" theme of this release.

A nice feature is the screen tests with Cruise and De Mornay, shot at producer Steve Tisch's house. There's also a director's cut of the final scene, which gives you a glimpse at how Brickman intended to end the picture before test audiences got a say in the matter, and the theatrical trailer.

The Blu-ray edition adds exclusive content in the form of a video commentary with Cruise, Brickman, and Avnet (in high-fef format). The Blu-ray also gives you a digital copy of the film compatible with iTunes and Windows Media devices, allowing you to download a single non-transferable copy of the movie to your PC or iPod.

Dawn Taylor believes that in times of economic uncertainty, you should never ever screw with another man's livelihood.