Take Me Home Tonight (2011)

Take Me Home Tonight (2011) – This article was originally published on 12ftdwende.com on 4 March 2011.

I frequently see commercials, or rather public service announcements, preaching the importance of the first five years of a child’s life. Apparently they are the most influential in a human being’s development. Well, the first five years of my life were spent in a (literally) colorful decade known as the 1980s. As a result, neon colors immediately set off my sense of nostalgia. There’s a great history of nostalgia movies. George Lucas’ American Graffiti is a classic, made in the 1970s about the 1960s. Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused is a (relatively) more recent example, made in the 1990s about the 1970s. They tend to be coming-of-age stories. Released this week is Take Me Home Tonight. Made in 2007 and set in 1988, this is also an R-rated coming-of-age story. Does it live up to the gold standards created by Messrs. Lucas and Linklater?

Fuck no, it doesn’t. (I think you can sense now which direction this review is headed in.) I probably should have seen Rango or The Adjustment Bureau (which both look pretty good) but this year I’ve been trying to review movies that people might be on the fence about, movies that look like they might be good but might not be. If you look at the number of negative reviews I’ve done this year, you can tell this strategy isn’t working out that great for me and may be turning me into a much more embittered person. The first red flag against Take Me Home Tonight should be that this movie was made in 2007 and has sat on the shelf for four years before being dumped in early March, not typically a strong time for cinema. Now GOOD movies can sit on the shelf too. Fox seemed to do everything humanly possible to hide and bury Mike Judge’s Idiocracy, which has since achieved a cult status as a hilarious harbinger of the horror that lies ahead of us. Some (like executive producer/star Topher Grace) argue that the studio didn’t know how to market an R-rated comedy featuring drug use. But this was 2007, the year Knocked Up was a huge hit making an unlikely star out of noted stoner Seth Rogen, so I’m going to call bullshit on that.

Topher Grace (star of That 70s Show and THIS 80s movie) plays a Matt Franklin, a math genius. After graduating from MIT, he decided that he really hates engineering and gets a job at Suncoast (back when they were not only still in business, but wall-to-wall VHS!) to take some time to “figure things out.” (Sidenote: Suncoast Motion Picture Company was my first job, meaning my freakishly encyclopedic knowledge of movies actually made me money!) This irks his policeman father (Michael Biehn from such 80s hits as The Terminator and Aliens) who wants him to do something with his life. One day his high school crush Tori Fredreking (Teresa Palmer of the awful current release I Am Number Four) stops by the store. Matt ditches his Suncoast vest (we didn’t have to wear those when I was hired in 2003) and lies to her, telling her he works at Goldman Sachs. It seems kind of clever, using Goldman Sachs. Having been largely responsible for the financial collapse, they seem like the perfect metaphor for pretending to be successful while just screwing things up, as Matt does in this film. EXCEPT this film was filmed in early 2007, BEFORE said financial collapse so unless the screenwriters were paying much closer attention to sub-prime mortgage loans than the rest of us, they probably weren’t aware of this. That’s right, the cleverest thing in this movie is an accident.

2007 was also a year when casting directors seemed to think that Dan Fogler was funny for some reason. That year alone, he was in Balls of Fury, Good Luck Chuck, and Fanboys (which also sat on the shelf for years before being released in 2009). The thinking was something like “He’s fat but he’s super-confident, isn’t that just fucking hilarious? No? Well we’ll just shove him right down your throat until you think so.” Since you don’t see the name “Dan Fogler” alongside the top comedy stars of today you can take the hint that it didn’t exactly work, but you can see Take Me Home Tonight to get a glimpse of what we’re all missing! Fogler plays Matt’s friend Barry (because Hollywood seems to think that’s a fat guy name), a recently fired car salesman. Fogler just wants to party (because fat guys love to party!) and spends the night doing coke and trying to get laid. Hijinks ensue. Laughter does not.

Anna Faris is also in this movie as Matt’s twin sister, Wendy. The good news? She’s not playing her usual “idiot with a heart of gold” stock character. The bad news? She doesn’t really sell the whole “smart” thing that well. I think as an actress Faris seems to work best in bit parts like in Lost in Translation and Brokeback Mountain. The fact that both those movies were well-written and beautifully directed might have had something to do with it too, as Take Me Home Tonight is neither. Wendy is engaged to Kyle (Chris Pratt), who is a total 80s movie-style douchebag. That one sentence pretty much sums up his entire part in the movie. Michelle Trachtenberg plays a hot rebel chick who for some reason gets paired up with Fogler. Her character seemed like she had the potential to be interesting, but then again if she had more screen time maybe she’d be just as boring as everyone else in the movie. The constant reminders that “HEY THIS IS THE 1980S” don’t do too much for the movie other than give it a pretty catchy soundtrack. Yes synth-pop was popular and fashion was hilarious but John Hughes wasn’t the only film-maker of the decade. Where is the 1980s of Jim Jarmusch and Alex Cox? The entertainment industry, and really our culture as a whole, tries to pigeonhole entire decades. The 70s were all disco, right? Never mind that some of the greatest rock music ever was recorded in that decade. They drop in slang like “to the max” and a Flavor Flav style “boyyyyyy” but none of this sells any kind of authenticity. Nobody ever says “gag me with a spoon,” but I was thinking it the whole god damn movie.

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