Party Like It's 1988
The go-go ‘80s get another loving celluloid tribute with Take Me Home Tonight, a film that succeeds (but just barely) not by poking fun at the decade of leg warmers, big hair, and even bigger cell phones, but rather by embracing the charm of its endearing lead actors.
Topher Grace and Teresa Palmer display a once-in-a-career chemistry that, while not enough to elevate the film to greatness, does provide enough spark to make it better than just bearable, and even likeable at times. It also makes us wonder why this guy hasn’t risen to A-list star status. In his less-than-spectacular film career (highlighted by a wasted villain role in Spider-Man 3 and Predators), Grace has proven so much better than That ‘70s Show co-star Ashton Kutcher in nearly every way. Yet, he can’t seem to get a breakout role. Perhaps it’s just taking an especially long time to recover from the bad mojo of Win a Date with Tad Hamilton! from a few years back.
In Take Me Home Tonight, Grace is not only the film’s executive-producer, but also stars as Matt, a brainy under-achiever fresh out of MIT toiling in the stacks of a Sun Coast video store while contemplating his future. A chance encounter with his high school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer, a dead-ringer for Kristen Stewart) leads him to a sort of high school reunion party where the film spends nearly the remainder of its runtime. It’s one of those all-in-one-night comedies in the spirit of American Graffiti and Dazed and Confused, where the characters gain a lifetime of worldliness in a single night.
Matt’s close circle consists of his best bud and comic sidekick Barry (John Belushi-esque Dan Fogler), who skipped college to sell luxury cars, and his sister Wendy (Anna Faris), who’s involved with a pastel-polo-shirt-wearing preppy named Kyle (Chris Pratt) in a relationship-of-convenience sure to drain her higher ambitions. With his mother and father (Michael Biehn and Jeanie Hackett) growing increasingly impatient with Matt’s aimlessness, the pressure is on to settle on a life direction -- a decision he’ll soon be forced to make when his summer of 1988 is about to collide with Tori Federking.
So as Matt, Barry and Wendy head out to Kyle’s annual blowout Labor Day bash, they first stop at Barry’s dealership to “borrow” his boss’s shiny, red 1988 Mercedes convertible to aid Matt’s ruse to Tori about being a high-powered finance guy working at Goldman Sachs. A big bag of cocaine discovered in the glove compartment and a side trip to a hoity-toity party in Beverly Hills provide all the “lifetime of worldliness” Matt needs to finally put an end to his silent protest to maturity.
Take Me Home Tonight works as a shadow of a John Hughes film (but is not in any way as good as a Hughes movie), as it follows the renowned filmmaker’s well-worn (but lucrative) path of teen dorkiness, endearing characters and embarrassing awkwardness. Though set in the late ‘80s, Jackie and Jeff Filgo's story feels like it could take place at any time. As if the filmmakers shot it in the ‘80s, shoved it in the can for 20 years, and then dusted it off for current audiences. They clearly set out to focus on universal themes about young people trying to figure out their futures, while not making in-jokes about big cell phones, gerri curls, or Rubik cubes. Because of that, it’s completely accessible to today’s audience who may be too young to “get” the references.
As expected, the soundtrack deserves mention as well. It rolls through the usual cadre of period classics like Dexy’s Midnight Runners’ Come On Eileen and Men Without Hats’ Safety Dance, but it’s the unexpected inclusions of Pete Townshend’s Let My Love Open the Door and Grace Jones’s rendition of Warm Leatherette that give a friendly tip of the hat to veterans of the era. On a curious side note, Eddie Money’s titular number is suspiciously missing.
The film, shot way back in early 2007, was shelved supposedly due to its heavy drug and alcohol use, but thanks to Grace’s Executive-producer perseverance, and his undiscovered lead-actor charm (OK, also the backing of Grazer and Howard’s Imagine Entertainment train), Take Me Home Tonight finally sees the light of day to show us that it’s once again fun to party like it’s 1988.
(Released by Rogue Pictures and rated "R" for language, sexual content and drug use.)
Review also posted at ww.franksreelreviews.com.