After his stint on That 70s Show, Topher Grace makes a pit stop in the 80s for Take Me Home Tonight. I can only assume that his 90s comedy, Smells Like Teen Spirit, is in the works.
The year is 1988 and Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) is stuck between wanting what he can't have and not knowing what he wants in the first place. After graduating from MIT with an engineering degree, a strange mental paralysis due to indecision has set in. He has a job at Suncoast Video that he swears is temporary but his dad (Michael Biehn) suspects otherwise. Matt's stalled life includes running commentary courtesy of his twin sister, Wendy (Anna Faris) and his best friend, Barry (Dan Fogler) who can't nudge him out of his rut. This all changes when Tori 'The Frederking' Frederking (Teresa Palmer) comes back to town.
You see, The Frederking was Matt's one true crush that never blossomed into anything real. She was busy being the prom queen while he was collecting attendance awards. They spent 7 minutes in not-quite-heaven and then he spent 7 years wondering what she would have said if he had asker her out. When she walks into Suncoast, Matt is reduced to the bumbling, awkward boy that he was growing up. Desperate to impress, he lies to her and claims to work in the big, bad world of finance which she has recently entered herself. This leads to a party invitation and the beginning of a night that will see Matt redeeming himself or sinking his own battleship in the process.
Okay, so this one isn't much of a cliffhanger. With a movie like this, the question isn't so much whether the boy will get the girl. It's really about the hoops he will jump through on his way to the inevitable conclusion. Take Me Home Tonight throws plenty of obstacles in Matt's way but has the good sense not to make any of them seem insurmountable. Heck, even when he's riding around in a stolen car next to Barry who has cocaine plastered on his face we know that Matt's biggest sin of the day will be his earlier white lie to Tori. He's just a likable guy who we wish good things for. This is largely due to the casting of Topher Grace as Matt. In many of his projects (That 70s Show included), Topher's persona has reminded me of Michael J. Fox. Fox typically played more confident characters while Topher digs into his anxieties but the resemblance is there. He brings an open-faced charm to this film (even when he's singing Straight Outta Compton) that gives us a central character worth caring for.
Anna Faris has the difficult task of shouldering a serious character arc in the midst of a frothy 80s style comedy. She gives Wendy a sarcastic shell that does a good job of shielding her insecurities from everyone. When she's not tossing verbal grenades in her brother's direction, she has to come to terms with what her own future holds. She could have a shot at a Masters degree in Cambridge if she can convince her oafy jock of a boyfriend (Chris Pratt) that it's a good idea. While her tale lacks the bubbly energy of Topher's shenanigans, Faris does well with her scenes of quiet empowerment. Fogler is far less successful as Barry, the weakest link in the central trio. He tries out his sweaty, loud Jack Black routine again and hobbles many of his big scenes in the process. For every weirdly funny grope session with Angie Everhart (Yaay! Gratuitous Nudity!), we have to suffer through a cocaine fueled dance battle that isn't funny even in an ironic way.
Teresa Palmer is given little to do as Tori, the object of Matt's desire. She is pleasant and unassuming but her presence is largely required as a catalyst for Matt's awakening. The cast is rounded out by plenty of funny people and familiar faces who float by in small but effective appearances. Bob Odenkirk shows up as Barry's boss while Michael Ian Black sleazes it up as Tori's pervy boss. The real scene-stealer however is Demetri Martin. He pops up in a couple of scenes as Matt's wheelchair-bound obnoxious classmate. The moments with him rank among the funniest of the film.
If it feels like I've spent an inordinate amount of time talking about the cast, it's because they are the best part of the film. As I mentioned earlier, the whole movie is fairly predictable but director Michael Dowse doesn't seem to care. He is more concerned with staging a pseudo high school reunion and drawing on 80s nostalgia to fill in the blanks (the soundtrack is Totally Awesome but you already knew that). When Dowse focuses on Matt and Tori's tale he gives us a sweet (if unchallenging) courtship that actually works. What doesn't work is the way he cuts between Wendy's sobering awareness and Barry's increasingly erratic hijinks. The split focus and tonal shifts between our main players make the proceedings feel too episodic. The liberal cursing and display of Angie's Everharts also smacks of forcing a more adult feel onto what is essentially an innocent tale of arrested development.
Video & Audio:
Since Fox sent a screener disc for review, I can't conclusively say that the video and audio are representative of the final retail product. With that being said, the anamorphic widescreen image seemed pretty clear and free of obvious defects. The neon colors of the 80s were well represented. The English 5.1 Dolby Digital audio mix was also fairly convincing with the energetic soundtrack filled with popular 80s tunes.
We kick things off with 7 Deleted Scenes. The first 6 are small character moments that would have helped develop the central trio along with Chris Pratt's character. The final deleted scene is really just a collection of Demetri Martin outtakes. While none of the scenes are essential, I do believe that a couple of them would have fleshed out Barry and Wendy a bit more. The next short featurette is dedicated to a Cast Get Together where Topher, Anna, Dan, Teresa and Chris have a few drinks, chat and generally goof off. They talk about high school and how they feel about each other's characters in the film. This is a genial bunch of people and it shows in their genuinely funny conversation.
Music Boombox lets you play songs from the soundtrack while relevant scenes from the movie accompany them. Band bios are also included. A Music Video for Take Me Home Tonight by Atomic Tom is a lot of fun. It shows most of the main cast members having a ball at an 80s party...movie montages galore. A Theatrical Trailer and 2 TV Spots round out the extras.
Take Me Home Tonight takes a standard issue tale of finding one's place in the world and spikes it with 80s nostalgia. Topher Grace brings his nervous charm to the party and the film is all the better for it. Director Michael Dowse occasionally loses tonal focus by skipping back and forth between characters (some of whom should be skipped altogether...looking at you Fogler). With that said, the end result is entertaining if slightly forgettable. Recommended.