If you’re going to set your 80s comedy in the same fictional universe as the classic 80s comedies of John Hughes, you better make sure your movie is good enough to withstand the comparison. “Take Me Home Tonight” just isn’t. Its characters are graduates of Shermer High — the same fictional school where Hughes set movies like “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club” — which means Topher Grace’s Matt might have shared classes with Alan Ruck’s Cameron Frye and Dan Fogler’s Barry could have been locker neighbors with Judd Nelson’s John Bender. But I have a hard time imagining anyone twenty-five years from now making their own homage to “Take Me Home Tonight,” or, for that matter, even remembering this mediocre comedy at all.
Grace, Fogler, and Anna Faris star as the oldest looking 22-year-olds in movie history (Grace, Fogler, and Faris were 29, 30, and 30 respectively when the film was shot back in 2007. It’s sat on the shelf, allegedly because of its rampant cocaine humor, since then). Grace’s Matt graduated from MIT but can’t decide what to do with his life, so he’s figuring things out while living at home with his twin sister Wendy (Faris) and working at a Suncoast Video. Appropriately for a movie about nostalgia, Matt is trapped in his own past. He’s never stopped pining for his high school crush Tori (Teresa Palmer), who randomly walks into Suncoast one morning and invites him to a raging Labor Day party where, you can be sure, every possible 80s cliche from music, to fashion, to drugs, will be trotted out and tweaked for a joke or two.
There are a couple of amusing cameos, particularly Demetri Martin as a brash, wheelchair-bound stockbroker, but just as many members of the large and impressive cast are totally wasted. Lucy Punch has maybe five lines as a crazy party girl with a crush on Grace; Bob Odenkirk has even less than that as Fogler’s boss. Worst of all is the film’s misuse of Anna Faris, maybe the funniest female actress in Hollywood today. As far as I’m concerned, if you cast Faris in a movie and you can’t find anything funny for her to do, you have committed a cinematic crime. Here she goes nowhere with a subplot about her dopey boyfriend Kyle (Chris Pratt) and then disappears completely for thirty minutes while Grace and Palmer fall in love over their mutual enjoyment of the penis game. That’s not a joke, either now or its original context in the film.
Most of the comedic load falls on Fogler’s shoulders who, it must be said, is trying very hard. The screenplay by Grace, Gordon Kaywin, and Jackie and Jeff Filgo calls on him for repeated pratfalls, occassional drug binges, one tragically uncoordinated dance contest, and a very disturbing ménage à trois. Grace, like the rest of the leads, is way too old for his part but at least his presence adds a fascinating subtext to a film about people worrying that they have already missed their chance to do something special with their talents. When Matt moans “I’ve been so afraid of life, I’ve missed my life!” you can’t help but wonder whether it’s the character speaking or Grace himself, who’s made a couple good films and a lot of dreck in his career, and who’s still playing recent college graduates at age 30.
As a movie lover myself, I completely understand filmmakers’ desire to pay homage to the movies that inspired them. I’m a child of the 80s too and if it weren’t for these films, I might not be doing this job, either. But it can be dangerous to remind audiences of the smarter, funnier movies they could be watching instead of yours. My advice? Don’t just make people remember their old favorites. Make them forget their old favorites by giving them a new one.