Take Me Home Tonight – Review


‘80s Flashback is not the John Hughes Experience

Okay, here’s a rule a thumb. If you title your movie after a Top-40 pop hit from the decade that gave us Swatches, leg warmers and women the freedom to look like football linebackers with shoulder pad tops, the least you could do is include the song somewhere in the movie. Eddie Money’s “Take Me Home Tonight” was a song with such soul-stirring lyrics as “I can feel your heartbeat faster, faster, faster,” and “I don’t want to let you go till you see the light.” Powerful stuff. And those lyrics actually fit within the context of the movie that shares its song title. Yet the song is missing from the soundtrack, which includes everything from Wang Chung to N.W.A. That’s what happens when you have a film on the shelf for four years and a studio (Universal) that didn’t know how to market the comedy.

Topher Grace is in a rut. He’s lived through the ‘70s, literally (by two years) and fictionally (on That ‘70s Show) and is now stuck in an ‘80s time warp with neither a DeLorean nor a case of Plutonium. His character, Matt Franklin, is smart. Like, you know, really smart. MIT graduate smart. Yet he works at Suncoast Video in a hole-in-the-wall shop at the mall, where customers can browse the latest video releases while Harry and the Hendersons plays in the background.

Directionless, Matt’s one big regret is “The Fredricking,” as in Tori Fredricking (Teresa Palmer), his high school crush, and never making a move. Lucky for him she’s back in town, even though she was supposed to be in Europe all summer. How he came to know this information it is never explained. It could be as simple as hearing it from a friend of a friend, or it may be something creepy, involving a spying midget, a pair of binoculars and a Walkie-Talkie.

So now Matt has one night to make it right with Tori. If this sounds like Take Me Home Tonight will borrow from the “one wild night to change your miserable life” motif playbook, then you get where this is going.  It worked for License to Drive twenty-plus years ago so why not now? Probably because that movie was made in 1988 versus now having a movie set in the same time period.

Take Me Home Tonight is okay if you are seeking ‘80s nostalgia, but if that were the case you would be better off watching some comedies made in the time period it is observing. Trying to recreate the ‘80s for audiences today just doesn’t have the same effect.

But it’s also hard to dislike the movie. The characters are sincere. And it is this sincerity that is it’s greatest strength. Matt is blessed with a superior intellect when it comes to numbers. He’s like Rain Man as one character observes. (It should be noted that while the story is set Labor Day weekend 1988, Rain Man didn’t arrive in theaters until December 1988.)

Even with a strong brain he can’t explain to his parents, especially to his father (Michael Biehn), an LAPD officer who spent a quarter of his life savings on tuition for a wasted degree, why he doesn’t want an engineering job or if he even likes working at Suncoast.

When Tori meets Matt at Suncoast – after he dashes out the back, ditches his nametag, tucks in his shirt, and enters from the front of the store – as she browses the comedies while he picks up a Sweatin’ to the Oldies VHS, she asks if he’s going to a certain party this weekend.

Matt’s wingman for the evening is his best friend Barry (Dan Fogler). Barry is like a pudgy Curtis Armstrong, sharing his sex-obsessed crude personality, but not a catchy nickname. Also along for the ride is Matt’s twin sister, Wendy (Anna Faris), a whiz at English who recently applied for graduate school at Cambridge but is too afraid of the implications with how her boyfriend (Parks and Recreation‘s Chris Pratt) will respond if the university accepts her.

Each character has a different set of circumstances that make their individual arcs unique, and because they were influenced by reckless means their pathos is communal. Matt’s one little white lie to Tori at the video store has a snowball effect. It causes Barry to steal a nice car from the dealership he was formerly employed – it’s no 1961 Ferrari 250 GT (Ferris Bueller’s Day Off) or Porsche 911 Turbo (Sixteen Candles), but enough to attract chicks. The thievery leads to the discovery of cocaine in the glove box and later drug-fueled shenanigans, while Matt makes his “move” on Tori.

Take Me Home Tonight isn’t devoid of jokes. Fogler does the most work of any other cast member to make it happen, though. Since the screenwriters weren’t kind enough to give him a nickname we’ll just call him “Mr. Pratfall.” He makes a small plastic baggie of coke last most of the night doing multiple snorts. He has a dance-off with a guy who could have been an extra in Breakin’. And he does a disturbing ménage a trois with a topless Angie Everhart and her “friend” who likes to watch.

As someone who claims the ‘80s as his decade, having been born in 1981 and lived through all the different fads (hyper color T-shirts, parachute pants, among others), I understand why certain filmmakers would want to pay homage to the movies of ‘80s. Unfortunately for those behind Take Me Home Tonight, there are far too many ‘80s comedies that are superior and worth “taking home tonight” instead.

Director: Michael Dowse
Notable Stars: Topher Grace, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Anna Farris, Chris Pratt, Lucy Punch, Michael Biehn
Writer(s): Jeff Filgo and Jackie Filgo

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