- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 9, 2008

Judging from the 25th-anniversary DVD edition, “Risky Business” is aging gracefully.

The movie that commenced Tom Cruise’s starring career, during the late summer of 1983, a year in which the busily aspiring young actor had four pictures in circulation, “Risky” proved a clever and winning impression of adolescent impulses and uncertainties. It still outclasses all the imitators that come to mind, notably the “American Pie” cycle of updates, which have mostly upped the ante on blatant vulgarity rather than human interest and sagacity.

Three of the principals - writer-director Paul Brickman, co-producer Jon Avnet and Mr. Cruise - have reunited for a companionable commentary track on this recent offering from Warner Bros. Home Entertainment. A more incisive summary of the movie’s production can be found in a “Making of …” featurette.

A pair of mementos - an extended look at the videotape auditions between Mr. Cruise and leading lady Rebecca De Mornay, both last-minute additions to the cast, and Mr. Brickman’s preferred fadeout - are arguably the most revealing supplements.

The first illustrates how lucky the filmmakers were in finding the right pictorial and personality match for an improbably appealing love affair, which envisions a naive high school senior in suburban Chicago overcoming an essentially mercenary and potentially calamitous liaison with a bewitching call girl. Fortune treated the filmmakers as generously as they were treating their protagonist.

Having made a classic during his directing debut, Mr. Brickman deserves the restoration of his finale, whose bittersweet note evidently struck the studio as less reassuring than the audience might need. They had a point, confirmed by the magnitude of the film’s success as a sleeper, but the Brickman choice harmonizes with the film’s prevailing tone and outlook, more attuned to life’s pitfalls than triumphs.

There’s a topic than remains unaddressed by Mr. Brickman and his colleagues: the curious absence of an active career for this writer-director since “Risky Business.”

He attracted favorable critical attention in 1977 as the writer of “Citizens Band,” directed by Jonathan Demme. Those two movies remain among the best written original comedies of their generation. Yet only a single Brickman feature emerged after “Risky Business” - the 1990 domestic tearjerker “Men Don’t Leave,” which starred Jessica Lange and derived from a French movie of the early 1980s, “La Vie Continue.”

During a press junket for the Richard Gere melodrama “Red Corner,” I took the opportunity to ask Mr. Avnet, the producer, about the Brickman disappearance. At the time they were collaborating on a screenplay about the Warsaw ghetto uprising, which Mr. Avnet eventually directed as a television movie. He commented that Mr. Brickman held himself to standards that tended to be far higher than the industry norm. There’s a fleeting reference to this trait in the commentary, when Mr. Brickman says that he swiftly tires of his own material. He credited Mr. Avnet with insisting on the retention of many scenes he himself was inclined to scuttle.

Well, some writers are prolific and some are not, but the exacting specimens are rarely attracted to popular filmmaking. Since there aren’t all that many Paul Brickman credits, the opportunities to inquire about his peculiar case of pickiness are unlikely to multiply. I’m not sure if we’ve seen an anniversary edition of “Citizens Band,” a flop when first released. Maybe the Brickman enigma can be clarified in 50th anniversary editions of his two esteemed films.

At this late date it’s also difficult to overlook the fact that “Risky Business” was a teen-themed prototype for the colossal juvenile comedy hit “Home Alone,” written by another humorist from suburban Chicago, John Hughes. A year after the appearance of “Risky Business,” Mr. Hughes, who had revealed a distinctive comic idiom in the pages of the National Lampoon, began his own successful teen franchise by writing and directing “Sixteen Candles,” which has aged as attractively as “Risky Business.” Did these guys know each other? And if not, why not? Their styles didn’t clash, but their formative experiences must have been similar.

The return of the movie that made Tom Cruise a star also seems wittily timed in the aftermath of his sensational trick performance in “Tropical Thunder,” a typically overbearing contemporary farce that may be worth recalling years later only for the deceptive gusto of Mr. Cruise’s impersonation of an irrepressible Hollywood despot. It suggests an inspired escape route from the pitfalls of stardom at age 45: Discover the joy of evolving into a comic character actor for the balance of a career. This is probably a survival technique that would have worked for another youthful favorite, James Dean, had he lived into middle age.

Mr. Cruise remembers being 19 when auditioning for “Risky Business” and had just turned 21 when the film was released. It’s amusing to learn that he may have needed to play hooky from his role as a thuggish lad in “The Outsiders” in order to keep the audition date. He was urgently advised to do so by his agent, Paula Wagner, who later became his partner in a major production company.

Sincerity and a priceless smile were the most conspicuous Cruise assets at the time, and he took them a long way before seeming to wear out the welcome in recent years - and more because his off-screen antics were leaving smelly impressions. There’s always a fallback position for dedicated actors: Find an arresting role and play it to the hilt.

TITLE: “Risky Business”

RATING: R (Occasional profanity and sexual candor; fleeting nudity)

CREDITS: Written and directed by Paul Brickman. Produced by Jon Avnet and Steve Tisch. Cinematography by Bruce Surtees and Reynaldo Villalobos. Production design by William J. Cassidy. Costume design by Robert De Mora. Editing by Richard Chew. Music by Tangerine Dream.

RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes, plus supplementary material

DVD EDITION: Warner Bros. Home Entertainment

WEB SITE: www.warnervideo.com


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