Review: ‘Take Me Home Tonight’

·Editor

1. The '80s took place when I was between the ages of five and 15, so I see the 80s the way most people who didn't spend their formative years see the '80s: As an extended vapid riff on consumerism, self-indulgence and hair spray. I have no idea whether that was actually the case or not; you can only learn so much about the larger culture watching "Friday Night Videos" and playing Excitebike until your eyes fall out. From the outside, it looks ridiculous, I'm sure the same way the '90s look to teenagers today, with our floppy hair and faux flannel and similarly self-important indulgences. You can make a movie about the '80s that mocks the culture of the times while still touching on the spiritual emptiness that allowed that culture to thrive; "American Psycho" comes to mind. Or you can make a movie that plays '80s songs and features breakdancing and looks no further, asking you to merely laugh and point. "Take Me Home Tonight" will inspire you to do neither.

2. The plot of "Take Me Home Tonight" is barely enough to hang a whole movie on, which is why you need the constant recitations of silly '80s trends to justify its existence. Topher Grace, looking callow and boyish and yet still far too old for the part, plays Matt, an MIT grad who, listless in a way that doesn't jive with his decade at all, is idling at a Suncoast Video while figuring out what to do with his life. There is of course a girl, a best pal, and a wild party, in which our hero learns about himself and his place in the universe. This is all fine: The One Big Last Party plot is a thin one, but can work as a clothesline for jokes and surface sentimentality, like in the underrated "Can't Hardly Wait" from a few years ago. (Or "Superbad," even, if you're stretching.) You will search long and hard for jokes in "Take Me Home Tonight."

3. Well, unless you consider "here's an '80s song" or "here's an '80s fashion trend" a joke, in which case, "Take Me Home Tonight" is a veritable Uzi of jokes. That's all it is, though, just a checklist of '80s gags that felt tired and worn in "The Wedding Singer" 13 years ago. (At least Adam Sandler wasn't too vain not to give himself horrible hair; Grace, a producer on the film, is too busy striving for leading-man status to clad himself in anything more goofy than a skinny tie and cool-guy-Tom-Cruise sunglasses.) The movie has earned some notoriety for the appearance of cocaine in the film -- Grace claims the cocaine scenes are the reason it has been delayed for four years, which is so not true -- but rather than an evenhanded look at the prevalence of cocaine in the '80s, cocaine here is used the same way drugs have been used in bad movies for decades: As a way to get mild-mannered characters to do "wacky" things they otherwise wouldn't. Grace never does drugs in the film, obviously; that would make him slightly unlikable to a sliver of the audience, and "Take Me Home Tonight" doesn't have the stomach to try anything daring. This movie's view of cocaine isn't that far different than Nancy Reagan's, and at least she gave us the entertainment value of Gary Coleman.

4. Oh, Anna Faris is in this movie. It is a measure of the film's inability to recognize talent when it has it on hand -- or Grace's inability to have much interest in any actor other than himself -- that it has taken me this long to get to her. Faris is a serious comedic talent, a spaced-out stoner Lucille Ball who brings a hint of anarchic weirdness to everything she does. Here, she's relegated to a boring, pointless part as Matt's sister Wendy; she's a series of reaction shots. The film wastes all sorts of talented actors, from Lucy Punch to Michael Ian Black to, most notably, "Parks and Recreation"'s Chris Pratt, who plays Wendy's preppy boyfriend. Pratt has an undeniable puppy-dog appeal that the film pretends not to notice; he's turned into the "evil" boyfriend because, well, because the movie needs to end. Instead, the film gives a large amount of screen time to Dan Fogler, an actor whose supposed appeal I must confess is lost on me. He does much fat-guy dancing and "outrageous" drug-sniffing, dialed in on a frequency that I'm sure is fun at Hollywood parties but has the effect of repeated blows to the brain. You keep trying to find a way to crop him off the screen.

5. One of the reasons "Hot Tub Time Machine" worked -- kind of -- was because it was parodying a certain type of '80s movie we all remember, the crazy ski/camp/sci-fi comedy. "Take Me Home Tonight" isn't a parody of anything: It's just a standard, dull pseudo-teen comedy that just happens to take place in the '80s. If you were to take away the '80s from this film and make it present day, it would be just as funny and about 60 minutes shorter. Which would be just fine.

Grade: D