Take Me Home Tonight (Rogue Pictures/Relativity Media, R)

Take Me Home Tonight is a sort of follow-up to the TV series That ’70s Show that offers the chance to live vicariously in the fantasy 1980s for roughly an hour and a half.

 

 

I’m not sure why anyone would be nostalgic for the 1980s, a decade that gave us, among other things, the AIDS pandemic, tax cuts for the rich and benefits cuts for the poor. Not to mention the S&L crisis facilitated by the same moral hazard that rewards the upper echelon of our financial system today; gamble big and if you win you get to keep the money, while if you lose the government will bail you out. Of course if you were down on your luck (or simply weren’t born on third base) and needed a little assistance you would be derided as a welfare queen, because greed is good and everybody despises a loser even more than they love a winner.

Oh right, that’s the real 1980s. The movie version is what people are nostalgic for and, really, that’s not surprising. Who wouldn’t want to live in a world where everyone is good-looking and well-off, there are no consequences to either drugs or sex, and if you’re a guy everything, and I mean everything from banging the girl of your dreams to getting away with multiple felonies, will magically work out as you wish? The current popularity of retro clothing and related tchotkes from this period demonstrates that many who have never been there find the fantasy version of the 1980s appealing. They’re probably the main market for this film—if you actually were there you’re more likely to find it offensive, tedious, or both.

Take Me Home Tonight is a sort of follow-up to the TV series That ‘70s Show that offers the chance to live vicariously in the fantasy 1980s for roughly an hour and a half. The parallels with the TV show are many, including the same lead actor (Topher Grace), two of the series’ writers (Jackie Filgo and Jeff Filgo) and similar emphasis on the music and popular culture icons of the period. What the film lacks by comparison with the TV series is any kind of engagement with the world of adults or with actual problems outside the narrow course of the characters’ social lives.

Shooting for Take Me Home began in 2007 but the film’s release was delayed for several years (reportedly due to concerns about the portrayal of drug use, although in truth that sounds more like a lame excuse than a reason). The delayed opening is doubly unfortunate. First, by opening in 2011 the film missed out on the chance to capitalize on the momentum built by a popular TV series whose last episode aired in May 2006. Second, the film is not opening in a period of national prosperity when the high jinks of privileged kids who have either remained mentally in childhood or have become arrogant investment bankers (or both simultaneously!) could be considered amusing. No, Take Me Home Tonight has to try to sell its lame gags to audiences who have experienced first-hand the pain of long-term unemployment, foreclosed homes and disappearing retirement savings.

Take Me Home Tonight opens with a clever credit sequence incorporating a high school yearbook motif then jumps ahead four years to 1988. Matt Franklin (Grace) has graduated from MIT, but rather than getting a real job and/or staying on in the youth paradise of greater Boston he has somewhat inexplicably returned home to LA to live with his parents and work in a local video store. Matt’s no Quentin Tarantino who is mad about movies and getting ready to make his own. He’s just marking time while he decides what he wants to do with his life, apparently unaware that, as one of the characters later says, that’s what college is for. Be that as it may, Matt’s been working at the video store all summer and now his father (Michael Biehn), a local cop, wants to know when he’s going to put that expensive education (paid for by dad) to work.

Fate intervenes, as it always does in this kind of a movie, in the form of Matt’s high school crush Tori (Teresa Palmer) who comes into the video shop (apparently for the first time in the three months Matt has been working there, but it doesn’t pay to think too much about such details). Several lies later (the major one being that he works for Goldman Sachs rather than Suncoast Video) Matt is invited to a party with the cool kids, all of whom seem to have become investment bankers. This is the setup for a sort of mini-roadtrip where, during the course of a single night, the main characters will either experience revelations of their true course in life (if we’re supposed to like them) or are tricked into displaying the deep darkness of their souls (if we’re supposed to hate them).

The screenplay hangs a lampshade on the trope of people who are stuck in time. The same lame stories are told repeatedly, word for word, and characters also state the theme explicitly: "Why do I feel like I’m in 10th grade again," "I’ve been hearing this story since we shared our mother’s uterus," "It’s high school again," and so on. Matt has company in his immaturity; his best buddy Barry (Dan Fogler) gets fired from his job as a car salesman for a juvenile fit of temper and his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris, who deserves better) can’t even bring herself to open a letter that will tell her whether or not she was accepted into a writing program in England. OK, we got it the first time, and a little more development of these characters would have been useful to make them real to us instead of just leaving them as cardboard cutouts in whom it is impossible to take any interest.

There are some funny moments in Take Me Home Tonight (although not nearly enough) and high production values include first-rate cinematography by Terry Stacey (who makes Arizona pass reasonably well for a generic LA), editing by Lee Haxall, production design by William Arnold, art direction by Elliott Glick and costume design by Carol Oditz. The story line is regularly interrupted by musical montages that are skillfully done and fans of Dan Fogler’s schtick will get to see plenty of it here. But mainly the film is a wasted opportunity gliding on the charms of its leads and a first-rate technical package which, in the end, can’t make up for the appalling laziness of the script. | Sarah Boslaugh
 

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