A film review by Craig J. Koban September 19, 2011


2011, R, 96mins.


Topher Grace: Matt / Anna Faris: Wendy / Dan Fogler: Barry / Teresa Palmer: Tori


Directed by Michael Dowse / Written by Dowse, Jackie Filgo and Jeff Filgo

TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT is a comedy set in the Regan-era, big haired, and neon-hued pop culture of the late 1980ís.  Yet, the film never once makes a case for why itís set in this time period.  

Its makers clearly have a fondness for the acid washed decade and all of its nostalgia, but it never once shows in the final product.  The story rarely feels like a corporeal part of the 1980ís; it has the eraís props, hairstyles, clothing, and time-specific music choices blaring on the soundtrack, but the filmís otherwise pedestrian and formulaic script could have just as well been set in the present.  If anything, TAKE ME HOME TONIGHTís period aesthetic is more of a lame gimmick than it is integral to the overall narrative. 

Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that star Topher Grace was in TVís THAT 70íS SHOW and appears here as a producer; maybe he thought leap frogging a whole decade from the small screen to the big would be both novel and appease fans of his past sitcom.  Perhaps he had a cultural love affair with the 80ís that he needed to bring to the silver screen.  Perhaps he watched far better and more consequential period, teen-centric comedies like AMERICAN GRAFFITI and DAZED AND CONFUSED and thought that there was a market for this genre to exploit in a decade largely unspoken for.   One thing is for certain: TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT seems almost abstractly vague with its admiration of the 80ís, not to mention that itís tediously unfunny and mournfully predictable as a comedy.  Perhaps this is why the film languished on studio shelves for four years (it was shot in 2007).   

People, no doubt, probably fondly remember watching THE GRADUATE for the first time and found its characterís existentialist, post-college/career fears and angst as refreshingly unique.  Yet, itís almost become a regurgitated clichť for so many countless movies over the decades, and TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT is no exception.  This film's misguided twenty-something is Matt Franklin (Grace): it's 1988 and he's a recent MIT graduate that is sort of melancholic and aimless.  He does not know what he wants to do in life, despite spending several years at one of the more prestigious American colleges.  While many of his Class of 1984 from Sherman High School have prospered and went on to bigger and better things, Matt still lives at home and slums away his work days at Suncoast Video, renting, returning, and filing VHS movies (note to young readers: its what we used to watch before DVDís and Blu-Rays).

Just when he believes that he has hit absolute rock bottom, a former high school crush of his arrives at his video store, Tori Fredreking (the fetchingly luminous Teresa Palmer, exceedingly well cast as the object of Mattís affection).  Matt is embarrassed to be seen as a Suncoast clerk, so Ė in a very awkwardly handled scene Ė he takes off his name badge and vest, sneaks outside, and returns to the store impersonating a customer.  Matt and Tori strike up an idle conversation, during which she informs him that she has landed a job at an investment bank.  Mattís response, in order to impress her, is a lie: he tells her that he works for Goldman Sachs, to which she responds that Los Angeles does not have a G.S. office.   

For reasons not adequately relayed, Tori believes Mattís cockamamie story and invites him to a Labor Day party held by Kyle Masterson (Chris Pratt), who happens to be the boyfriend of his sister, Wendy (a misused Anna Farris).  Matt agrees to attend, which means that heís going to have to pour on lie after lie to conceal the reality of his situation.  He comes to the assumption that he cannot be seen arriving at a party in a junky auto that he drives, so he as his buddy Barry (Dan Fogler) decide to steal a car from the dealership that Barry was fired from earlier in the day (gee, I wonder if the hot sports car they drive will be trashed near the end of the evening?).  Matt, Wendy, and Barry arrive at the party, during which Matt makes every attempt possible to woe the girl of his adolescent dreams. 

TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT does not have an original idea in its ambitionless screenplay: itís like a relative smorgasbord of witless and banal formulas.  We have a love story thatís scrapped from the bottom of the barrel of some of the more forgettable John Hughes comedies, as well as other conventions: the party the protagonist must attend thatís being hosted by his enemy; the obligatory scenes of the partiers getting drunk or high; the inebriated dance offs; the confrontations and obstacles that the protagonist faces to win over the girl; the litany of more falsehoods he dishes out to impress her; and of course the preordained moment when she learns the truth Ė just after an intimate moment with him Ė where she unceremoniously dumps him, after which he has to pull out all the stops to win her back.  In this filmís case, it involves him engaging in an otherwise dangerous and stupid party ritual know as ďThe BallĒ, during which the hero screams out to the onlookers, ďIíve been so afraid of my life that Iíve missed it.Ē 

Lines like that are just typical of the type of colorless and flat exchanges that are peppered all through the film (supplied by Jackie and Jeff Filgo, who did work on THAT 70íS SHOW).  Most of the time, the characters in the film engage in expository heavy lines or speak to one another in ways wholly unnatural.  As a result, the characters become almost ill defined cardboard cutouts trapped within the filmís period dťcor.  Even though some of the actors playing the parts are agreeable, the people they inhabit are not.  Matt, for example, is a timid and shy person, but itís hard to sympathize with him, let alone root for him him.  Yet, the script pathetically works overtime to get us to like him. 

The film is alsoÖjust not particularly amusing, and some of its moments of debauchery seem force-fed and desperate, as is the case with a sequence when Barry is caught in an uncomfortable three-way with a middle-aged sexaholic and her creepy German companion (itís also not helped by the fact that Fogler is so incurably unfunny and histrionic).  Lastly, the film seems to lack a real identity: it either wants to be coming-of-age story, a nostalgic travelogue picture, a crazy party night comedy, or an wrongful combination of all three.  TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT is almost skitzo in this regard. 

As for what I liked?  Well, the retro, electronic-infused music soundtrack is Ė to take a page out of the decadeís vernacular Ė totally rad.  Grace is an amiable and idiosyncratic performer thatís good at blending broad comedic pratfalls with dramatic sincerity.  Teresa Palmer is a radiant Aussie beauty that has a Rachel McAdams-esque movie star smile and ethereal glow thatís hard not to be taken in with.  I also liked a brief cameo by 80ís action star Michael Biehn that plays Mattís LAPD officer dad, who splashes a much needed dose of grounded humility to the proceedings (although he occupies a totally unbelievable scene near the filmís conclusion).  Yet, TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT is just a real poser. Itís an 80ís picture that thinks it understands the milieu of the times, but its period trappings just emerge as an unnecessarily device and itís characters are stilted marionette puppets to a mundane and lifeless script on autopilot.   

Oh, and by the way, if your film is called TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT, could you at least have Eddie Moneyís song of the same name in it!?  What up with that? 

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