Topher Grace Goes to 1980s in ‘Take Me Home Tonight’

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Average: 4 (2 votes) Oscarman rating: 2.5/5.0
Rating: 2.5/5.0

CHICAGO – Nostalgia films need a couple of elements to make them work. First, instant recognition with the era, and second, a reason to go there. “Take Me Home Tonight” lacks both characteristics, and lead actor Topher Grace can’t seem to light a fire under the rest of it.

This film is set in the late 1980s, although the timeline is quite vague. As in most look-back scenarios, there are a parade of fashions from the era, conveniently set up in a big party scene. Even though the costumes and the soundtrack kept telling us it’s the ‘80s, it never felt that way, and the romantic comedy narrative could have been set in last week.

Topher Grace portrays Matt Franklin, a nebbish post-college graduate still pining for Tori (Teresa Palmer), his high school crush. Despite the background that he is a whip-smart MIT engineering graduate, he still lives with his parents and works at the local video store. As fate would have it, his lost love enters the store, and he proceeds to woo her with an elaborate lie. He tells her he works for Goldman Sachs, an investment banker, the same industry she is in. She then asks him to the Big Party, where he’ll have to keep the subterfuge going.

Meanwhile, Matt’s best friend Barry (Dan Folger) has been fired from his car salesman job, and laments with Matt and his sister Wendy (Anna Faris). They come up with a plan to steal a Mercedes from the car lot, to give Matt further credibility as a financial player. The heist goes off, and Matt pulls up to the Big Party in grand style. Wendy’s boyfriend Kyle (Chris Pratt) is throwing the bash, and even plans to pop the question that very night.

Rewind: Topher Grace (Matt) and Teresa Palmer (Tori) in ‘Take Me Home Tonight’
Rewind: Topher Grace (Matt) and Teresa Palmer (Tori) in ‘Take Me Home Tonight’
Photo credit: Ron Batzdorff for © Relativity Media

Matt does hook up with Tori at the party, and even goes with her to a fancier gathering with important financial people in attendance, including an actual Goldman Sachs employee (Demetri Martin). With reputation and romance on the line, Matt will take on all challenges thrown at him – including a giant steel ball – to prove that he is worthy of his one true love.

Setting this film in the late 1980s doesn’t really make any sense, besides maybe the emphasis on the financial players of the era, because the conventional story doesn’t need a time or place. It’s the blah-blah boy has a crush on a girl in high school, but he was too nerdy, etc. Topher Grace is a handsome guy, I’m sure he would have set off the laws of attraction had he tried in high school. And really, does lying that you’re in finance really that impressive? Aren’t they just clerks with cash and attitudes? At least if he’d come clean about working the video store he could have got her a couple free rentals.

The supporting cast tries gamely to fit into their assorted archetypes. The best friend Barry is played by Dan Folger (”Balls of Fury”) as if he attended the Jonah Hill School of Sidekicks. Seriously, is this the only go-to approach for the rotund party animal? It’s getting boring. Anna Faris, barely recognizable as the sister, leaves her comic timing at the door through a lame subplot. And although Teresa Palmer is the object of desire, she sleepwalks through most of the events. Only Demetri Martin is oddball, playing his financial guy in a wheelchair as if he were Dr. Strangelove.

It is notable that Topher Grace was responsible for this film (it was his story) and the screenwriters (Jeff Filgo and Jackie Filgo) were executive producers on Grace’s “That ‘70s Show,” because the plot of the film mirrors the essence of that particular sitcom. Tori is the girl-next-door that Eric…I mean Matt pines for but is temporarily unattainable. They just moved it up a decade and graduated Grace from college. Put the cast of ‘70’s Show in the key roles and it would be play like a leaden 114 minute episode.

One of the stranger elements in the plot is a giant metal ball that someone is suppose to get into and roll down the Los Angeles hills. Who first made the ball and gave it the gravity of courage to those who dare to enter it? This becomes as important in the film as the sword in the stone. This of course has nothing to do with ‘80s nostalgia and everything to do with “how are we going to make Matt a hero?” It speaks volumes about the film when the solution is a giant metal ball.

Sister Act: Anna Faris (Wendy) and Topher Grace in ‘Take Me Home Tonight’
Sister Act: Anna Faris (Wendy) and Topher Grace in ‘Take Me Home Tonight’
Photo credit: © Relativity Media

But there can be an argument that this is just a nice bland piece of date night entertainment. There are some amusing moments; when Matt comes into the first party in Tom Cruise sunglasses, an off-camera voice says “Nice glasses, a**hole,” which may be the truest descriptive in the film.

The tagline on the movie poster is “Best. Night. Ever.” The marketing department may want to dial down the superlatives just a bit. Best nights ever usually end up not being remembered so well, it’s the exaggeration later that makes them best. This film remembers too much.

“Take Me Home Tonight” opens everywhere March 4th. Featuring Topher Grace, Dan Folger, Teresa Palmer, Demetri Martin, and Anna Faris. Story by Topher Grace and Gordon Kaywin, screenplay by Jackie Filgo and Jeff Filgo, directed by Michael Dowse. Rated “R.” Click here for the interview of Topher Grace and Demetri Martin for “Take Me Home Tonight” senior staff writer Patrick McDonald

Senior Staff Writer

© 2011 Patrick McDonald,

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