By: Roxana Hadadi
The premise of “Take Me Home Tonight” is that one night can change your life. This movie will not change yours.
If you only watched teen movies, you’d think your entire past can be rewritten and your entire future created in one night – it happened to Sam in “Sixteen Candles,” to Denise and Kenny in “Can’t Hardly Wait” and to the kids who worked for Joe in “Empire Records.” “Take Me Home Tonight” takes that typical premise, of current and former friends coming together for one epic party, and tweaks it with older characters and an ‘80s setting. But while the film has all that decade’s elements – legwarmers, bad music, a dance-off – it fails to capture the retro charm that real movies from the 1980s do. It’s funny at the time, but “Take Me Home Tonight” isn’t John Hughes levels of legendary.
The film tries to capture the listlessness and restlessness of youth, that idea that Jim Stark raged about in “Rebel Without a Cause” – that no one really knows you, not even yourself. Struggling with that concept is Matt (Topher Grace), a recent MIT graduate who has moved back home and works at the mall’s video store, unsure of what he wants to do with his life. His cop father (Michael Biehn, who earned his chops in ‘80s sci-fi flicks like “The Terminator” and “Aliens”) is frustrated that Matt is wasting all the money that went into his education; his mother is supportive but somewhat absent; his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) just doesn’t understand why he can’t make any decisions about anything.
Frustrated with his inability to commit to a career or to a plan for his future, Matt instead levels his sights on one thing: High school crush Tori (Teresa Palmer), who is back in town after graduating from Duke University and taking an internship in the area. Convinced that Tori won’t be interested in him if she knows he’s working at a dead-end job, Matt creates a whole new identity for himself, pretending that he’s working at Goldman Sachs. With his lie planned, Matt sets out to woo Tori at a party thrown by Wendy’s boyfriend Kyle (Chris Pratt, Faris’s real-life husband), a polo-wearing jerk who pops his collars and doesn’t share Wendy’s smarts.
If you’ve ever thrown or attended a party, though – which is basically every person who has been a teenager, unless you’re in a religious cult or something, and if so, don’t drink the Kool Aid – you’re aware that things never go as planned. And so things get crazy at Kyle’s party, as Matt’s lie gets more complex once Tori begins to notice him; Wendy wonders whether her future should involve Kyle or higher education; and Matt’s best friend Barry Nathan (Dan Fogler) experiments with cocaine to numb the pain of getting fired from his job. How the drug use, alcohol and romance end up affecting everyone’s lives once the sun rises will shape how they view themselves, and each other, forever.
“Forever” makes the film sound a little dire, which is untrue. It’s mainly fun, even though it seems like everyone is doing cocaine and having promiscuous sex and being completely irresponsible – hey, it was the ‘80s! Using those elements as the crux of many jokes gets tired as the film progresses, but there are genuinely hilarious moments, from Barry’s drug-induced dance-off with an obnoxious break-dancer at Kyle’s party to Matt and Barry’s run-in with Matt’s dad, who is shocked at their absurd behavior. And other parts click, too, like the awkwardness of hanging out with people you went to high school with but don’t really know, and comedian Demetri Martin as Marcos, a former classmate who was hit by a drunken driver and left paralyzed; his deadpan delivery, reminiscent of Martin’s standup style, adds a good element.
But the film isn’t groundbreaking, nor does it have any insta-classic moments, like Sam giving away her underwear or the sing-alongs in “Empire Records.” It moves at a brisk pace, but leaves no definite conclusion as to what happens to these characters – which seems silly, given that the film is about how this night changes their lives. And if you’ve seen an episode of “That ‘70s Show,” it’s impossible to view Matt’s character as separate from Eric Foreman, who Grace played in that show. Grace wrote the film, and maybe subconsciously infused Matt with the same earnest good nature that Eric had – but it unfortunately doesn’t seem like a progression of any kind. Palmer is better, delivering a far different performance than the butt-kicking warrior she was in “I Am Number Four,” and Fogler works, too, as Matt’s uncomfortable, pathetic best friend.
Part of the reason the actors are believable in their roles is because they’re playing older characters – recent college graduates instead of teens – and the film is therefore more appropriate for those older than 17, since it’s rated R. There’s drug use, both cocaine and marijuana; nudity in the form of topless women; a few different sex scenes, including one which has a weird S&M theme; lots of drinking; vomit; a discussion about male-on-female sexual harassment; and cursing. It’s the rampant cocaine use and the bizarre sex scenes that probably make this most inappropriate for younger teens.
And younger teens won’t really appreciate this movie, anyway, unless they’re ‘80s film buffs. If so, they’d enjoy a Hughes flick more – and older viewers probably will, too. “Take Me Home Tonight” is good for some laughs, but it won’t stick with you. Cue up “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” for that instead.