Title: Take Me Home Tonight
Directed By: Michael Dowse
Starring: Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt, Michael Biehn, Lucy Punch, Michelle Trachtenberg, Demetri Martin, Michael Ian Black
What’s going on with the comedy genre? Why can’t anyone come up with something original? At least Take Me Home Tonight manages to create a pleasurable atmosphere. The plot’s predictable, the gags are unoriginal, the 80’s look is cartoonishly cliché and, overall, the film isn’t all that entertaining, but thanks to some pleasant characters, it’s surprisingly hard to flat out dislike. Now is that a backhanded compliment or what?
At the close of the summer of 1988, Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) is at a loss. He just graduated from MIT, but opted to work at a mall video store rather than a Fortune 500 company. His buddy, Barry (Dan Fogler), took a pass on college all together to work for a local car dealership. Unfortunately for him, his shady sales tactics catch up to him and he gets the boot. Then there’s Matt’s twin sister, Wendy (Anna Faris), who’s torn between her dream of going to graduate school and her boyfriend Kyle’s (Chris Pratt) dream of starting his own model family.
However, tonight everything changes because tonight is the night the trio takes their first baby steps forward and reunites with their high school class to get wasted, share success stories and witness someone ride “the ball” at a massive Labor Day party. For Matt that means finally talking to his high school crush, Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer), for Barry it means washing away his jobless sorrows in cocaine and ladies and for Wendy, deciding whose goals are more important, hers or Kyle’s.
You know what you’re in for just ten minutes into Take Me Home Tonight. The film opens up in a music store where Matt and Wendy watch as Barry makes a fool of himself hitting on an employee, knocking over a stand of CDs, which, of course, kicks off a domino effect practically demolishing the whole store. Where else does that happen but in a movie? Nowhere and that’s exactly where the filmmakers went wrong; the whole thing is just nonsensical. Of course, sometimes going with the absurd can work in a comedy’s favor, but if that’s the case, it’s got to be all or nothing. Here, writer-director Michael Dowse and his co-writers, Jackie and Jeff Filgo, don’t seem to quite know what they want, the ridiculous or the endearing, causing both sentiments to clash and ultimately become ineffectual.
First off, the endearing. Matt is a role designed for Grace and that might have something to do with the fact that Grace came up with this story. He’s a little awkward and geeky, but overall a super nice person that gets trampled all over by the powerful and popular guys. Yes, Grace is natural in the role and his performance works. The problem is, he simply stays within the usual confines relying on his boyish good looks and innocent charm to earn your sympathy. There’s nothing special about him.
The same is true for Fogler’s character. Every nice guy needs his crazy sidekick, right? This is a comedy; of course! Sure enough, that’s the exact position Barry fills. He’s absolutely out of control and while that sounds like it might be appropriate, in this case, it’s just way over the top. The things Barry does aren’t only wildly reckless, but potentially deadly, too. The amount of booze and cocaine this guy consumes would land any real person in the hospital, if not a coffin. Even worse, most of the things he does just aren’t funny. Kudos to Fogler for making due with what he was given. The guy really knows how to work a punch line and his comedic timing is spot on, but sadly, that’s not enough to fix the lame material.
Guess what? It’s the same situation for Faris. While Wendy isn’t Faris’ typical bimbo of a character, she’s still brilliant in the role. But, again, that role isn’t all that interesting. In fact, at one point of the film, we lose sight of Wendy entirely and by the time we get back to what could have been a very intriguing dilemma, we’ve forgotten all about it and no longer care. Palmer’s character, on the other hand, gets a bit too much screen time. It’s not that Palmer’s performance doesn’t warrant it, it’s that her character doesn’t. If Tori is supposed to be that magical girl Matt just can’t land, she’s got to be even the slightest bit elusive. Instead, we get a girl that shows signs of being into the guy right from the start.
This brings us to another issue with Take Me Home Tonight; it’s painfully predicable. You know how twins can finish each other’s sentences? Well, if you don’t, this movie will tell you they do. But, wait; you did know that, didn’t you? The same goes for just about every gag and story progression throughout the entire film. From the moment you meet Matt’s father you know the fact that he’s a cop is either going to come back around to get him or help him out of a jam. The second Barry drives that Mercedes convertible off the lot, you know it isn’t returning in one piece. When Matt pretends to be a Goldman Sachs employee, you know he’ll have to eventually tell Tori the truth and it’ll hurt.
Things don’t get much better on the technical side. This film is packed with continuity errors galore. Are Grace’s sleeves up or down? Apparently the guy has a tough time committing to either. Even worse, the set dressing is horrible. This isn’t the real 80’s; it’s Hollywood 80’s. The set is fake and you know it from beginning to end. Why even set this film in the 80’s to begin with? Oh, so you can have an excuse to release a nostalgic soundtrack.
As much as this might sound like a complete pan, the performances are enough of a redeeming quality to at least make the film watchable unlike other recent comedies. Minus Kyle who’s terribly unlikable thanks to Pratt’s over-the-top-performance, they’re all pretty cool people to hang out with. Take Me Home Tonight isn’t an excruciating experience in the least; you just don’t get very much out of it. The jokes aren’t funny, the story doesn’t make much sense and the film lacks originality, but there are amiable characters, good tunes and just enough moments that at least get you to crack a smile, that there’s really no harm in putting yourself on cruise control to take this one in. However, it’s certainly not necessary.
By Perri Nemiroff