Looking back isn't always pretty. Or necessary. And in the case of this limp 1988 exercise called Take Me Home Tonight, Kimberly Gadette wouldn't be surprised if '80s rocker Eddie Money called ... wanting his song title back.
This must be "Release the kraken!" week. Both Take Me Home Tonight (shelved in 2007) and Beastly, sharing their debuts this weekend, have finally wormed their way out of studio lockup, where they'd been sent to gather dust indefinitely. Sadly, this is far from a great escape. Time supposedly heals everything – but if a movie is initially deemed a disaster, then unlike cheese, wine and smoked meats, there's no improving with age.
Perhaps the thought was that since last year's Hot Tub Time Machine did so well, maybe there was still some gold to be mined in the hills of the late '80s. But that's an apples-to-oranges, Roseanne Barr-to-Axl Rose comparison. Hot Tub Time Machine had wit, well-drawn characters and a smartly woven plot ... while Take Me Home Tonight has less complexity than leg warmers.
The screenwriting team of Jackie and Jeff Filgo probably consider themselves connoisseurs of American retro pop, spending years as showrunners of That '70s Show before taking this latest jump into the ensuing decade. Here, the plot makes a dull-witted 22-minute sitcom episode look like Emmy material. It's Labor Day, 1988 and our hero Matt (Topher Grace), recently graduated from MIT, is at a career crossroads. (Perhaps he might want to look at the degree he just received ... it could be a clue.)
His malaise upsets his parents, who didn't expect that after paying a princely fee to send Matt away to a high-end college, he'd be back living under their roof, working part-time in a video store at a mall in LA's San Fernando Valley. But his discontent is soon forgotten when longtime high school crush Tori (Teresa Palmer) wanders into the store, mentioning her plans to attend a school reunion/end-of-summer bash. Matt can't believe his luck. Maybe he's got a chance with her after all. With his twin sister Wendy (a dulled-down Anna Faris) and best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) in tow, they're on their way. Will everything change because of this one night of revelry? Do we even have to ask?
And that's the plot. A party in which 22-year-olds, four years out of high school, wander around, dance, fight and make up. We get a few dullish strands of dialogue between assorted pairs of people who parrot each other's words, followed by the filmmakers cranking up yet another tune from those go-go '80s. The two big laughs at this reviewer's screening occurred when one character, immersed in water, hurled upside down, and another cried so hard he drooled. What that says about this particular audience ... I'll leave others to conclude.
It seems that Topher Grace is both coming and going at the same time: while one foot is attempting to hop on up to the next rung in his career, the other is stuck decades behind (first in That 70's Show and now, with this picture). Which leads to his going nowhere fast. Here's hoping that this fairly amiable fellow who appears to have a deadpan style and a decent sense of comic timing will soon find a project that can showcase him appropriately.
As for his sister Wendy, Faris appears so willing to play against her usual dumb blonde type, she forgot that she was performing in a comedy. Painfully plain, her face swollen, Faris looks like she just drifted in from some turgid drama about domestic abuse. Perhaps a director might have been able to help craft her performance. Ah, yes, a director, with a light touch and an incisive eye. Anyone hear from director Michael Dowse lately? Maybe we should call on those popular '80s cops, Miami Vice's Crockett and Tubbs, to chase him down.
While Faris is close to numb, Fogler's best friend Barry bounces off the ceiling. Though he does marvelous voiceover work and has won multiple awards on and off Broadway, his comedic talents have yet to be properly honed for the screen.
Without a shred of a decent screenplay, a director who's gone missing, a foundering cast and music employed as an aural Band-Aid – in the hope that a frequent pumping up of the volume might heal the dead spots – the film's title takes on an alternate meaning. Word of mouth being what it is, it's not hard to imagine that the classic date of dinner and a movie simply turns into dinner ... followed by the request to skirt the Cineplex altogether with an urgent, "Take me home tonight."
Rating on a scale of 5 decisions to rent the 1988 Oscar-winner Rain Man instead: 0.5
Release date: US: 4 March 2011; UK: 13 May 2011
Directed by: Michael Dowse
Screenplay by: Jackie Filgo & Jeff Filgo
Based on a story by: Topher Grace & Gordon Kaywin
Cast: Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt, Michael Biehn, Michael Ian Black, Michelle Trachtenberg, Demetri Martin, Lucy Punch
Rating: US = R; UK = TBC
Running time: 114 minutes