- Rated R
- Buy the BD
All photos © Rogue Pictures
Reviewed by Bob Westal
he more time passes, the more a misleading pleasant glow envelopes the 1980s and the more I grow puzzled about why anyone would want to relive that decade. I was there as a fully aware young adult and, as far as I can tell, it was no high point in any political, social, or mass culture category. How surprising, then, to find a movie that makes me feel a bit wistful for that bygone era when "liberal" became a dirty word and bland pop music permanently took over the airwaves.
Like "American Graffiti," but with vastly more ironic musical choices, "Take Me Home Tonight" is set over a 24-hour time period and focuses on one very eventful evening. Topher Grace ("In Good Company," "That 70's Show") stars as Matt Franklin, an MIT engineering graduate and math whiz. This is an era when engineering jobs and video stores are both easy to find. Matt is dealing with some serious post-college malaise and therefore chooses to hawk VHS tapes at Suncoast. The rest of the time, he's wiling the days away in the company of his mousse-haired, high-end car salesman best buddy, Barry, (Dan Fogler) and his unsuitably boyfriended twin-sister, Wendy (Anna Faris), an aspiring writer of literary fiction. Living at home, he pitifully tries to ignore the disapproval of his policeman father ("Terminator" daddy figure Michael Biehn).
When Matt's long-obsessed over high school crush, investment banking intern Tori (Teresa Palmer) – who he annoyingly refers to as "the Frederking" – appears, he abandons his work uniform and makes his long-delayed approach. When the sensitive topic of workplaces comes up, he tells her the only reasonable thing: he's at Goldman Sachs. Naturally, there's a party (actually two) that night, and naturally Matt, Barry and Wendy will be present. A stolen car, a stumbled-upon baggie of cocaine, Wendy's decision to accept the surprise proposal of her deeply stupid significant other (a very funny Chris Pratt), and Matt's newfound determination to pursue Tori, leads to the kind of comic and emotional hijinks you're expecting, but with a few surprises along the way.
Executive produced and with a story co-written by star Topher Grace, "Take Me Home Tonight" pays as much homage to "American Graffiti," "Dazed and Confused" and "The Graduate" as it does to the John Hughes oeuvre, but it's real edge is director Michael Dowse ("FUBAR,” "It's All Gone, Pete Tong"). Dowse achieves a level of sincerity and comic bite that transcends the efficient but sometimes painfully obvious screenplay by "That 70's Show" alums Jackie and Jeff Filgo. The pay off comes in some truly funny comic set pieces and in an unusually suspenseful climax in which Matt accepts a very dangerous challenge to roll down a hillside road inside a giant ball. (It's a metaphor!)
Solid performances help a lot. Grace is, as usual, extremely likable as the flawed but decent lead, but with somewhat more depth and bile than his past good-guy performances. Anna Faris is very good in a more subdued role than usual, and her twin-sisterly chemistry with Grace is strong. Relative newcomer Teresa Palmer is slightly out of her depth in a difficult role; she's supposed to be both a fantasy love object and a highly intelligent human being. The good news is she's lovely and ultimately grows into her part. Michael Biehn is also very good in a surprisingly layered role; maybe we're finally ready to deal with the concept of a movie father who's actually worth listening to.
There's more. Comedian Demetri Martin ("Taking Woodstock") proves that he has some genuine range as an actor while getting some of the biggest laughs as a pissed-off, priapic paraplegic who actually does work for Goldman Sachs. Another interesting semi-cameo features Michelle Trachtenberg, still best known to many of us as a certain vampire slayer's younger sister; she's all but unrecognizable and funny in goth gear, but still a bit young and not quite stoned enough to be lusting after Dan Fogler's coke-addled wannabe slickster.
Speaking of Mr. Fogler, all I can say is that his past crimes against movie comedy in "Balls of Fury" are forgiven and his Tony award, at last, makes sense to me. Barry Nathan might be a Jack Black-esque cliche as written, but Fogler finds a real arc for his character and turns his overconfident would-be slickster into a recognizable human being. An abortive coke-fueled sex scene, said to be largely improvised, involving model-actress Angie Everhart, and a very unwanted and increasingly invasive third wheel (a mostly silent Clement von Franckenstein, as memorable as his name) is a minor classic. The sheer lust and honest horror conveyed by Fogler as he attempts to luxuriate in Everhart's ample bosom despite the encroaching von Franckenstein makes for one of the funniest scenes I've seen in a movie for some time.
I'm in an odd position with "Take Me Home Tonight." Much to my own surprise, I found myself kind of loving it on my first viewing. A second viewing weeks later revealed some flaws described above that, while no worse than anything you might see in one of the better 80's comedies, can't really be ignored. Fortunately, for every clunky or overly obvious moment, there are more moments of inspired humor and sincerity that make me want to stick with my original 4 out of 5 rating. Is it possible that I've been overtaken by 80's nostalgia despite myself? Sure, but it might also be that sometimes a movie's best parts can be so good they can offset a host of mistakes.
Two-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The Blu-ray release of “Take Me Home Tonight” is a bit light on special features, but you will find some deleted scenes, an entertaining chat with the cast about making the movie, and a music video featuring Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler and Teresa Palmer. There’s also a feature called Music Boombox that supposedly lets you listen to the ‘80s musical hits from the movie, but it’s a rather lame addition that simply takes you to those specific scenes featuring bits and pieces of the various songs. Snore.