Topher, you could do better than “Take Me Home Tonight”

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By Tressa Eckermann, Senior Staff Writer

Regular viewers of the now defunct “That 70s Show” can tell you that Topher Grace was always too good for the show. I got the same feeling watching his new 80s comedy, “Take Me Home Tonight.”

Let’s be clear, this isn’t a bad movie. It’s just the kind of movie that you watch at 2 a.m. when there’s nothing else on and you’re too tired to get up and find the remote.

Grace plays Matt Franklin, an MIT grad in 1988 California, toiling away at Suncoast Video with his twin sister Wendy (Anna Francis) and his loud oaf of a friend Barry (Dan Fogler.) He’s taken the summer to try and figure out what he wants to do with his life, and now that summer’s up, he’s still got nothing. His police officer dad (Michael Biehn – Kyle Reese from the first “Terminator”) is upset about the direction, or lack thereof, that his only son’s life is taking.

Enter Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer), Matt’s high school crush that he was always too afraid to approach. She’s back from school and working for a banking company that she secretly hates. In an attempt to impress her, Matt tells her that he works for Goldman Sachs and says he’ll meet her at Wendy’s idiot boyfriend’s annual Labor Day party. He’s going to do what he never had the guts to do in high school – get Tori’s phone number.

For being the loudest character in the film, Fogler has some of the most memorable scenes. Early in the movie, after he’s lost his job at a car dealership, he steals a car with Matt as part of the plan to convince Tori that he is really a Goldman Sachs employee. Cut to Matt and Barry racing down the street singing “Straight out of Compton” – it’s insanely funny.

“Take Me Home Tonight” is like any other 80s finding-yourself story. It’s all about choices and the characters trying to find their way. Matt’s trying to find out what he wants from life. Wendy’s trying to figure out if she wants to stay in California and marry her boyfriend, or go to graduate school in England. Barry’s regretting his decision to not go to college and Tori – well, Tori’s basically just there to be the pretty, unattainable girl that you see in every ‘80s movie.

Grace, who co-produced the film, said they wanted to make a movie that genuinely feels like it was made in the 80s and not just a parody of that generation. The filmmakers actually do succeed in doing that. There are no references to huge cell phones or Michael Jackson. There are a few references that are really enjoyable if you know what you’re looking for. For example, the group attended Shermer High, which fans of “The Breakfast Club” will recognize as the high school from that film. And there is a wild coke-fueled 80s house party that culminates in Barry getting into a really funny dance-off with another party attendee, which gave the 20 or so audience members the biggest laugh of the movie.

There’s just not a lot to work with here. Grace is really charming, cute and we know he’s capable of good acting because we’ve seen him do it in movies like “In Good Company.” He was the only thing that made “Win a Date with Tad Hamilton” remotely enjoyable and kept a lot of “70s Show” viewers around longer than they probably would have. He almost succeeds in doing the same here. But Palmer is blank-faced and bland, and Farris is way funnier than the materials she’s given to work with. Fogel’s trying to make a character that we’ve already seen a million times seem funny.

It’s not their fault the movie never quite takes off. Sure, it held my attention and I was mildly curious about how it would end, but I don’t think I’ll be in a rush to buy it when it’s released on DVD.

I really wanted to like this movie, but it’s a tough sell. Just as soon as I’d start getting into it and there were some really good laughs, there’d be some groan-worthy parental dialogue delivered by Biehn, whose speech towards the end of the movie falls flat.

For all its problems, it’s a nice way to waste two hours. It’s silly and fluffy, but cute, and has moments when the audience can recognize a really good movie that just didn’t quite get made. But the scenes are only peppered in and by the ending, which is ridiculously funny, it’s almost too late. The soundtrack is probably the best part of the movie.

If you’re looking for 80s nostalgia or laugh-out-loud humor, you’re better suited with last year’s raunchy “Hot Tub Time Machine,” or looking up the Atomic Tom music video the cast did for the film which is genuinely funny. It’s worth your time only for the actors and a story that, if it had been tweaked a little, would’ve been good.

Or just settle in for an afternoon watching your “Breakfast Club” or “Pretty in Pink” DVDs (come on, you know you have one). And let’s hope the next time Grace and the other actors get another project, they can put their good talent to use.

3/5 stars

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