Judge Patrick Rogers thankfully only had to endure one year of the '80s, and even then the memory is fuzzy at best.
Our review of Take Me Home Tonight, published July 27th, 2011, is also available.
"I have been so afraid of my life, that I have missed my life."
At first glance, Take Me Home Tonight seems like it's aiming for the same kind of territory that 2010's Hot Tub Time Machine covered; a none too serious, marginally effective satire of '80s cinema and culture. But here's the thing, Take Me Home Tonight, despite its opening scene and laughably cheesy opening credits sequence, is more of a film that just happens to be set in the '80s instead of a send up of the decade. It's not as funny as Hot Tube Time Machine. It's not as scathingly clever and original as Heathers nor is it as heartwarming as Say Anything. It's a film that's three decades too late and aimed at an audience that no longer exists. Take Me Home Tonight truly is a film that is caught in a state of cinematic irrelevance.
Facts of the Case
Matt (Topher Grace, Predators) is a recent MIT graduate. He's got a shiny new engineering degree and yet he kind of hates being an engineer. So here we find him, back home living with his parents while working at a video store. His dad (Michael Biehn, Aliens) keeps reminding Matt that he said he would have his next life move figured out by the end of summer, and yet here it is, the end of summer and Matt's still kind of lost. But then one day Tori (Teresa Palmer, I Am Number Four), Matt's dream girl and high school crush, walks into the video store and sets off a chain of events that is going to forever change Matt's life. One night, one party, one chance for Matt to finally have something go his way.
Let's start off by asking "Who is this film supposed to be marketed towards?" It's pretty much right in that 17-25 year old demographic, yet it's also a film set in a decade that this age range is hazy on at best. It doesn't riff on the decade enough to be effective as broad ranged comedy and it doesn't have enough vulgarity in it to satiate the baser desires of that lucrative demographic. It's kind of a film that just exists. Type you rent when you're at the video store with your girlfriend and you've already walked around the new release wall a few times to no success. She wants to watch the newest Hugh Grant movie to keep her ovaries in tip top shape and you want to watch whatever film Todd Phillips most recently shat out. So you settle for a happy medium: something that will make you laugh, her swoon, and lead to both of you having sex that night.
But before I devolve into simply criticizing this film (which it doesn't fully deserve), let me just say it is effective as a minor escape from a shitty day. I did find myself relating to Topher Grace's character and his struggle to find himself after graduating college; being one of those freshly graduated and terminally floating youths myself. But this emotional heft only pops up when it's convenient, and it's not as if it's something we haven't seen a million times before and in so many better ways. Be it from John Hughes (The Breakfast Club) or Richard Linklater's masterpiece, Dazed and Confused. It's such a shame too, because Take me Home Tonight is at its best when exploring these issues instead of trying to force jokes. And by force, I really mean force.
There's graphic cocaine use, the requisite pair of silicone breasts, a couple of nut shots, a giant metal ball-cum-rite of passage (still scratching my head over the necessity of that blatantly moronic plot point), and even a dance off. But none of it is particularly clever or funny. It just kind of is. Matt chases after a girl that we know he's eventually going to get (is it sexist to say "get"?). We know that things are going to pan out for him in the long run, and by the end of the night he's going to have the last laugh. It's your standard coming of age tale yet it never fully commits.
Topher Grace manages about as well as he can with the material. He can be charming when he wants and knows how to balance the clumsy awkwardness in order to endear his character to the audience at times; though he's not exactly charismatic enough to carry the whole film. Similarly, Teresa Palmer plays the film's love interest with enough spirit and uniqueness to allow such a clichéd character archetype to not wither and die under all the genericalness. But she also doesn't make the role bloom. The make-up department should have done something about those bags under her eyes though. I kept thinking that a heroin subplot was going to come into play at the end of the second act. It actually would have been welcomed; a little narcotic twist to shake-up the inevitable third act estrangement-due-to-misunderstanding-between-the-love-interests genre convention. The most memorable role goes to a grizzled Michael Biehn playing Matt's hard-nosed and blunt father. Almost all of the film's gravitas concerning Matt's inability to commit to a life decision stems from Biehn's criminally under-utilized character. It's always great to see Biehn in a film, regardless of the quality, purely because he's a man who fully commits to anything put in front of him.
But on the other end of the spectrum are Anna Faris (The House Bunny) and Dan Fogler (Balls of Fury). People seem to like Faris as a comedian, enough to herald her as some sort of actress who's pushing the limits of comedy while simultaneously redefining them. Really, this is who we put up on a pedestal in the age of Tina Fey (30 Rock) and Kristen Wiig (Bridesmaids)? Faris is gratingly annoying and she seems to have this belief that the more she screeches and the wider her eyes get, the funnier things become. Thankfully in Take Me Home Tonight her acting has been toned down in order for her to inhabit the paper thin role of Matt's twin sister. Her subplot about marriage over academic advancement is completely superfluous. But whereas Faris and her character are tolerable, Dan Fogler is like cinematic cancer. I say that because it's not enough to simply just call him a poor man's Jack Black…which isn't saying much to begin with. Fogler flops around onscreen every chance he gets, be it through screaming his lines of dialogue or spastically throwing his girth around for laughs. I'd sit here and try to define what's wrong about his approach to comedy but I'm still not quite sure if there's really any sort of approach at all. He offers nothing as an actor or as a character and I hope to some higher power that he's relegated to a B-grade sitcom on the back end of a block of Fox programming so his career can die in obscurity. I'd rather have Laurence Olivier do my next teeth cleaning than have to suffer through something else with him in it.
One bright side is that the film is incredibly well photographed even if Michael Dowse's (It's All Gone Pete Tong) directing is the epitome of workman-like. This HD transfer does nothing but illuminate the crisp cinematography of the whole affair. At times the film does look too heavily processed, especially with its heavy blue tinge, but you can't fault the film for just following a modern cinematic trend of color manipulation and tinting. The colors and fabrics of the decade really pop on this disc even if the overall image lacks in sharpness. And this is a comedy so the DTS-HD Master track housed here meets the expectations that you should have for the genre. Dialogue is pitch perfect on the scale, never getting swallowed up by the soundtrack. It's not like you're expecting it to shake your whole house down.
As to the special features, besides a digital copy of the film, there are a couple of highlights and more than a few standard filler items. First up is a collection of deleted scenes that help to flesh out character arcs here and there. It's a pretty decent collection but they were cut for a reason. Up second is a "Cast Get-Together," which is just a fancy way of saying "a video where we all got together and patted each other on the back by sharing inside jokes and talking about how everyone was so great to work with." An interesting special features is a music video of the whole cast playing along with a cover of "Don't You Want Me." There's more riffing on the '80s by the cast in this short little music video than there is in the entirety of the film itself. Though of course Dan Fogler busts out a reference to Alien…oh damn, short by one year. And then there's a feature that's billed as "Music Boom Box" where you can hear "12 awesome hits from the totally rad '80s." It's just a feature that allows you to watch snippets of the music played throughout the film. There are also a couple of trailers for the film itself to round out the entire disk. It's certainly not a mind blowing collection but you can't really ask for much more. A director commentary would have been nice. I would have liked to hear the director's take on the story behind this film's developmental hell.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Maybe I'm being too hard on Take Me Home Tonight. I realize that there are people who watch films purely to be entertained or to have a few laughs. I won't deny that it's an okay date movie (if the date's with a girl you hate) and I'm sure a bucket of popcorn would make things a bit better too.
Take Me Home Tonight is a slight tongue-in-cheek time capsule of a film that's aiming for John Hughes' wheelhouse. Though unlike Hughes, this film neither effectively nails the gravitas of disaffected and disenfranchised youth culture nor is it really all that funny. What we get instead is an awkward and neurotic Topher Grace stumbling through an uninspired and painfully stale screenplay trying to show people that he's leading man material. An incredibly sub-par film gets an okay Blu-ray release. At the most, you could rent this on a night where nothing else seems appealing to you. Or if you're the only person in the world who's a fan of Dan Fogler.
Even The Man, The Myth, The Legend, Michael Biehn cannot save this film from being guilty.
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