“Take Me Home Tonight:” 1980s Comedy Cliché

Moviegoers Are Better Off Staying Home Tonight


Topher Grace (left) and Dan Fogler (right) star in “Take Me Home Tonight,” which hits theaters on March 4. (Ron Batzdorff / SMPSP© 2010 Relativity Jackson, LLC and Internationale Filmproduktion Blackbird Drit)

Published: March 2, 2011

“Take Me Home Tonight,” a new comedy in theaters March 4, tries so hard to be a modern day laugh fest, like “Superbad” set in the 1980s, that with the exception of a few funny scenes, it’s hard to tell whether the script is deliberately cheesy or just poorly written.

The plot itself is a cliché: a geeky recent MIT graduate, Matt Franklin (Topher Grace), has moved home to the Los Angeles suburbs because he can’t decide what to do with his life. When he sees his high school crush, Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer), at the mall where he works at a video rental store, Matt becomes obsessed with trying to get a date. But like during his high school days, Matt still doesn’t have his “in.”

After learning that Tori is working in finance, he lies and tells her he works for Goldman Sachs (at his non-existent L.A. office). The two meet again at the annual Labor Day party thrown by his sister Wendy (Anna Faris)’s boyfriend; a sort of high school reunion that Matt traditionally skips. But now he finally has his “in” with “the Frederking.”

After tramping from party to party and bonding as they go, which eventually leads to yard-hopping in Beverly Hills and sex on a trampoline, Matt decides to tell Tori where he really works. Surprise, surprise: she feels betrayed and used, and he spends the rest of the movie trying to win her back, stumbling over a series of roadblocks, like narrowly escaping being arrested by his own father for grand theft auto and drug possession.

In addition to the cheesy plot, the movie is riddled with corny  lines. Before Matt kisses his crush on the trampoline and steals a Mercedes,  he repeats what his best friend Barry (Dan Fogler of “Balls of Fury”) told him earlier in the evening,  “Tori, tonight we’re not thinking, we’re doing.” Grace’s delivery is as weak as the line.

“Matt, take a shot at something,” Matt’s father advises during a heartfelt conversation about what to do with his life. Matt responds, tearfully, “Hell, I don’t even know where to aim.” Try a part that doesn’t almost exactly replicate your role on “That ’70s Show.”

Grace as Matt Franklin is playing a less charming Eric Forman, aged 10 years. As for Faris, the filmmakers wasted her comedic talent (evidenced by her role as a neurotic pop-star in “Just Friends”) by giving her a lackluster supporting role as Matt’s boring sister. The two biggest stars, Grace and Faris, flop in this post-grad, one-epic-night comedy repeat, but at least the supporting cast provides some comedic relief.

Fogler steals the show with his hot-tempered outbursts and a hilariously inappropriate bathroom sex-scene where Barry initially agrees to let an older lady’s German man-friend watch, but gets freaked out and scrambles away pants-less, all while high on cocaine, of course. In a combination dance sequence/fight scene, Fogler commands attention with some absurd physical gestures that will make most laugh, but some sigh and roll their eyes.

Another character, Wendy’s boyfriend, Kyle Masterson (Chris Pratt of NBC’s “Parks and Recreation”), plays a dumb jock, complete with pastel-colored, flipped-collar polo and jerk-off attitude. While a near opposite role to his Andy on “Parks and Rec,” Pratt creates one of the funniest scenes in the movie, with his over-the-top, hysterical crying.

Another notable performance is that of comedian-actor Demetri Martin, who plays Carlos, a former high school classmate—now paralyzed—who pretends not to be bitter by boasting about his job at Goldman Sachs and all the women he sleeps with. His lines sound a little too similar to Martin’s stand-up, but while awkwardly trying to maneuver his wheelchair, deadpanning “Move out of my way, I’m trying to fucking party!” just works.

“Take Me Home Tonight” has a few laugh-out-loud moments, mostly involving the supporting cast, but overall, the audience has heard the cliché bits and seen the recycled gags before. The abruptly serious scenes in the movie, like when Matt pleads with Wendy not to marry Kyle, leave an aftertaste of a wannabe John Hughes film gone wrong. Viewers will laugh, but sparingly. Comedy, like wealth in the 1980s, doesn’t always trickle down.