A well-acted but forgettable Hot Tub Time Machine clone for the post-college set (and without the time travel.)
Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) is an MIT graduate who doesn’t want to be an engineer… or take a chance on anything else, for that matter. His twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) is deciding between settling down or going to grad school. And best friend Barry Nathan (Dan Fogler) just got fired from his fresh-out-of-high-school job and needs to blow off some steam before he pops. Set in the mid 1980’s, the three of them wind up at a Labor Day end-of-summer blowout where each is given the chance to change their direction in life. Good for them; bad for us.
Let’s start with the acting. Topher Grace attacks his role as if cast in a romantic tragedy, leaving everyone else to try to lighten the tone after being brought down by his character’s lack of motivation. The “Great White Buffalo” high school crush he’s after, played by Teresa Palmer, follows his brooding lead, which for the first half of the film is as tedious as it sounds. By the time this main story line lightens up, both Faris’s and Fogler’s individual stories take their turns filling in for Topher. In addition to being predictable and ultimately forgettable, the only reason the film appears to be set in the mid 1980’s is to provide a decent soundtrack; picking a perfectly appropriate song for each scene is the one thing the film gets right.
Like any film of this type, there are some standouts. Michael Biehn’s too-brief screen time as father Bill Franklin immediately comes off as a tough but loving dad (especially for an L.A. cop.) Michelle Trachtenberg’s bad girl Ashley slinks around the party for a bit before making herself known, deliciously lurking on the fringe of the festivities while seeking opportunities to pounce. But then there’s the issue of Anna Faris playing someone a dozen years younger; they really couldn’t find someone younger to play this part? Nothing against Faris (she’s still amazing) but as Topher Grace’s twenty-two year old fraternal twin? And while we’re recasting, if Dane Cook wasn’t so old, he might have made a less brooding lead (hey, Good Luck Chuck was better than this, and yes, I’m serious.)
It would be easy to dismiss this exercise as “That 80’s Movie” due to Mr. Grace’s involvement, but except for the opening credits and the wardrobe, there didn’t seem to be any compelling reason other than the soundtrack and the opening credits to make this a period piece. Last year, we had the similarly-plotted Hot Tub Time Machine, a comedy farce that hit all the same high notes while wallowing in the time period. In contrast, the finished cut of Take Me Home Tonight feels like a poor combination of ideas better used in other films while suffering an identity crisis of what kind of movie it ultimately wants to be. The filmmakers got one other thing right, too: why is there always that insufferable fool who brings his guitar to the party?
(a one and a half skull recommendation out of four)