Take Me Home Tonight

If you’ve ever popped your collar, thrown a cassette of Van Halen’s 1984 into your Walkman, or wished you could pull off a Flock of Seagulls haircut, your new favorite movie may well be Take Me Home Tonight (not counting anything by John Hughes). If not, you may stop reading. And might I suggest Rango? Or perhaps Battle: Los Angeles?

We hear about target audiences all the time, and Take Me Home Tonight has a very defined one. If you lived through the 80s and enjoyed them at least a little, then by all means, go for it. You’ll laugh yourself silly, and you’ll sing along to every single song on the soundtrack. Pretty much everyone else will not get it, not care, and/or not laugh, other than an occasional polite chuckle.

At Shermer High School (an obvious shout-out for Hughes fans), Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) was voted Most Brainy. Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer) was Prom Queen. He had a huge crush on her. She didn’t know he existed. When they graduated in 1984, she went to college and then entered the banking world. He went to MIT and is now (1988) working as a VHS lackey at the local mall’s Suncoast Video.

When he notices her walking through the mall one afternoon (shades of Can’t Buy Me Love), he strips off his Suncoast vest, careens through the backdoor (to the strains of “Hungry Like the Wolf”), and comes back in through the front door to casually bump into her as if he didn’t work there. (He chooses Goldman Sachs as his fake employer.) When they meet-cute, she asks if he’s going to the big party that night. He continues to play it casual and agrees to try to stop by.

Meanwhile Matt’s sister Wendy (Anna Faris) is weighing graduate school and a serious relationship with the party’s host, Kyle Masterson (Chris Pratt). And Matt’s best friend Barry (Dan Fogler) is getting fired from his job at a luxury car dealership.

Over the course of the night, we follow the crazy kids as they steal a car, lip-synch N.W.A., snort coke, and have a dance-off to the strains of “The Safety Dance”. There’s all kinds of other mayhem and craziness, along with all kinds of other 80s tunes (“Der Kommissar”, “Oh Sherrie”, Let’s Go All the Way”…)

Sure, we know Matt and Tori are going to eventually end up together (after he tells her the truth about not working at Goldman, and after she gets mad), so there’s no real suspense there, but there’s enough comedy, nostalgia, and even a little heart to keep you interested and very entertained.

Grace brings the perfect amount of charm to his role as Matt. He’s shy, he’s vulnerable, and he’s actually even a little cute as he continues to crush hard on Tori. Faris is essentially wasted in her role, but Fogler is just the opposite, stealing the show every time he’s on screen. As a Gordon Gekko-attired oaf, he’ll give you a clear visual on what Jack Black and Sam Kinison’s love child would be like. And Palmer is frankly luminescent as Tori, channeling (here’s your test:) Cindy Mancini, Amanda Jones, and Sloane Peterson equally. (Recognize the names? You’re in. Enjoy the film.)

The script by That 70s Show‘s Jackie and Jeff Filgo (from a story by Grace) is flat-out funny, though I have a hunch most of the best bits were improvised. There’s nothing really new here, but honestly, it still works. Michael Dowse, directing his first big-time feature, does a fine job putting everything together. Again, there’s nothing that stands out, but there’s nothing terribly wrong either.

A few weeks back, I mentioned how The Adjustment Bureau came out better on the other side after being pushed back six months from its September release date. Well, Take Me Home Tonight was pushed back a full four years from its 2007 release date (due mostly to concerns about all the cocaine use), but Ron Howard’s Imagine Entertainment came in and saved the day.

Children of the 80s, send him a thank-you note.

4/5 stars