Take Me Home Tonight (**½)

A love letter to the comedies of the 1980’s, Take Me Home Tonight isn’t quite sure if it also wants to be a parody as well.  As such, this well intentioned comedy comes across as having a bit of an identity crisis.  At times, it wants to just be as close as it can to the types of laughers that came out in the 80’s (especially those dealing with uncertainty about the future and massive all night long parties), but at times it also seems to be playing some of the references for laughs.  The filmmakers would have had a more successful flick if they chose which direction to go in and just stuck with it.  As it stands, they ended up with a pretty amusing movie (featuring charming work from Topher Grace, ironically the star of That 70’s Show when this offer came along), just one that could have been better than it ended up being.

Matt (Grace) is a recent MIT grad working at Suncoast Video while he tries to figure out what he wants to do with his life.  When his high school crush Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer) walks into the store around Labor Day weekend, he pretends to be an employee at Goldman Sachs and gets invited to a party she’ll be attending.  Along with his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) and best friend Barry (Dan Fogler), Matt goes to the wild party (and party that follows) to try and win Tori.  Each character will have to deal with some life issues and decide if now is the time to grow up (just like in those 80’s comedies), but nothing is taken too seriously in the movie.  It’s got an excellent feel for the time, and tells a charming story.  It just never completely follows through on it and ends up leaving you wanting more than it’s got.  Some movies can do that successfully, this one however could not.  The point at which the flick ends is a natural one, but you get the sense that the full story has not been told, and that’s a bit of a letdown.

Topher Grace is almost perfect as the 80’s style protagonist.  Earnest and funny, not quite a nerd but definitely an outsider…someone whom Lloyd Dobbler would likely see a kindred spirit in. Grace is able to flesh out his character more than anyone else in the film, and that’s important, because all would be lost if we weren’t invested in his quest.  He gives it his all.  As for the others, Faris is pretty much wasted, which is a shame considering she may be the best comedic actor of the group.  Fogler is sometimes funny but sometimes annoying; though I must say he bore a striking resemblance to 80’s movie sidekick Curtis Armstrong (it’s more or less exactly that type of role).  As the love interest, Palmer is pretty good, though she never really gets to do a whole lot.  The other supporting roles are filled with familiar faces like Michael Beihn, Michael Ian Black, Demetri Martin, Lucy Punch, Chris Pratt, and Michelle Trachtenberg, but they are all barely in the flick.  The movie lives and dies on Grace, and it mostly lives.

Director Michael Dowse does a fair enough job with the direction, keeping things moving while also managing to always make it “feel 80’s”.  There’s nothing to write home about in terms of his work, but he didn’t do anything wrong really.  The reason the film isn’t a complete success is the script, written by Jackie and Jeff Filgo (ironically of ‘That 70’s Show’ fame as well) with story credits to star Topher Grace and Gordon Kaywin.  As previously mentioned, they can’t decide if they’re poking fun at the era or not.  They mostly aren’t, but the moments that they do ring false because of it.  They shot themselves in the foot a bit with that, though ultimately it doesn’t destroy the movie, just wounds it a bit.

I did enjoy Take Me Home Tonight, but it was missing that special something that makes a comedy memorable.  I do recommend fans of 80’s comedies to check this out, if only to compare and contrast.  There’s things to like here, and some very charming moments (most of the falling in love between Grace and Palmer is very well done and believable, if a bit rushed), but there’s too few to really call this a success.  I liked the film, but I found myself wishing it was slightly better than it ultimately was.