If Superbad was an 80’s movie set in contemporary suburbia, Take Me Home Tonight feels like an unofficial sequel set in the 80s, made in 2007, released in 2011, and starring the guy from “That 70’s Show.” It’s all enough to make your inner TARDIS a little sea sick. Ironically, given the right circumstances, Take Me Home Tonight might have felt right in place on the list of Bad Movies Way Too Many People Refuse to Concede Are Bad. Those movies, for the most part, survive because of our nostalgic affection. But for all that Take Me Home Tonight gets right about 80’s movies, it’s impossible to remake nostalgic affection, no matter how many times you play Dexy’s Midnight Runners.
It is refreshing, however, to see a filmmaker, Michael Dowse here, attempt to make an 80’s movie without a trace of irony and without any meta jokes. Take Me Home Tonight is played straight up, right down to the credit sequences. It’s every 80’s party movie you’ve ever seen, but what makes it awkward is the fact that the two leads, Topher Grace’s Matt Franklin and Dan Fogler’s Barry Nathan, aren’t high-school kids. They’re trying to capture Superbad in a post-college world (and Topher Grace and Dan Fogler do make decent older versions of Michael Cera and Jonah Hill), which is kind of like making a movie focusing on Jerry O’Connel’s character in Can’t Hardly Wait. In fact, that character is well represented by Chris Pratt, who plays Andy in “Parks and Recreation,” and the difference between the way he looks in this movie and the way he looks in “P&R” tells you exactly how long this movie has been sitting on a shelf.
Pratt plays the the guy who peaked in high school but hasn’t come to terms with that yet. He’s dating Wendy Franklin (Anna Faris), who is Matt Franklin’s twin sister. Matt graduated from MIT and is working at a video store, unable to figure out what to do with his life, when he has a chance encounter with his high-school crush, Tori (Teresa Palmer). Awkwardly, Matt tells Tori that he is a banker at Goldman Sachs, and later that night at the big party, it’s that lie that plays central to Matt’s attempts to hook up with Tori.
Basically, it plays out like every 80’s movie you’ve ever seen. Matt and Tori hit it off; Barry gets high and makes an ass of himself (and Fogler is damn near tolerable in this movie), and Wendy begins to realize that her boyfriend is holding her back. And that’d be great, if it were the 1980s. But there’s a reason you only revisit those 80’s movie when you’re sick or hungover: Sober and lucid minds are far more discerning. Take Me Home Tonight is the reason we don’t revisit Weird Science. We couldn’t deal with the crushing reality that, by sober adult standards, it probably wasn’t a very good movie.
But, for all that’s wrong with Take Me Home Tonight, it does have a certain charm. After all, the 80’s soundtrack isn’t a remake, and a few of those songs do have the power to conjure that nostalgia, assuming you were around in 1986 to hear them the first time around. But that’s another problem with this movie: It doesn’t have an identifiable audience. People that grew up in the 80s would probably prefer to revisit Hughes, while those that grew up in the late 90s/Aughts probably wouldn’t understand the appeal. They’d probably think it was just a badly made cheesy movie with old people songs. It’s a movie made to be watched on TBS in 1991, not one made to be seen on the big screen in 2011.
Still, while Take Me Home Tonight not a particularly good film, it is better than it looks. You may not walk out satisfied, but you might have a few decent soundtrack songs stuck in your head. And you know what? For those that are nostalgic for the early Aughts, Topher Grace is still boyishly awesome.