Sunday, March 13, 2011

Take Me Home Tonight

Spoiler alert-o-meter: Mild to medium spoilers ahead.

In Take Me Home Tonight, the new post teen comedy that takes place in 1988, Topher Grace proves he has not aged since his days as Eric on That 70s Show. He plays a variation of Eric, the smart, sarcastic, wimpy kid from Illinois with the bodacious, sweet girlfriend. Here, his character, Matt Franklin, is hyper smart. He’s a whip with numbers and has recently graduated from MIT.

But it’s Labor Day Weekend. He spent the past summer back at home in Los Angeles working at Suncoast Video (RIP), and has no idea what he wants to do with his life. His dad, played by tough guy actor Michael Biehn (The Terminator, Aliens, T2), is an L.A. cop and wants Matt to take some initiative and get an engineering job.

While at work, Matt catches sight of his high school crush, Tori Frederking. Feigning to be a Suncoast Video customer and not an employee, he devises a fib to get her attention: knowing she works for a high powered financial company, he pretends to be an up-and-comer at Goldman Sachs. It works, just enough for him to find out she’s attending the big Labor Day Party being thrown by his sister’s boyfriend.

So, sit-com setup. A storyline that wouldn’t seem out of place on That 70s Show. Call it That 80s Show (not to be confused with the actual 70s Show spinoff with that very name). Tonight resembles a mix of contemporary teen comedies (Superbad, Nick and Norah’s Playlist, Easy A) and teen comedies made in the 80s (The Sure Thing, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Better off Dead) while also coming across as being not of either era. It looks bright and shiny, with a certain Benetton palate, but doesn’t quite have the zippy, hip quality of John Hughes movie (Ferris Bueller comes to mind as a teen template, as it similarly did when I recently watched Easy A) or the kitchen-sink insanity of a  Savage Steve Holland movie (One Crazy Summer, Better off Dead).

As a character, Topher’s Matt doesn’t quite lend himself to the hip but awkward teen and post teen characters Michael Cera has made a bright career playing, starting in Arrested Development and continuing with Superbad, Juno, and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. Nor is Matt as snarky and knowing as any character John Cusack played with a simpatico ease back in the 80s. Matt doesn’t necessarily think beyond just getting an in to talk to Tori. He’s almost a throwback to a 50s or 60s teen hero, one who just wants a pretty girl to like him, not even considering that she might actually sleep with him.

Matt is too sweet a guy to be considered contemporarily raunchy but the movie is too R-rated to be John Hughes sweet. The raunch, and much of the r-rating, is supplied by Matt’s sidekick, Barry, who, recently fired from his longtime car salesman job, takes revenge by stealing the best car on the lot for the night. The justification being that Matt can’t roll up to the big Labor Day party in just any crappy car. He’s gotta look like a player in the finance world.

Anna Ferris, a comedic actress who has headlined movies like The House Bunny, Scary Movies 1 through 4, and The Hot Chick, here plays the straight second banana of Matt’s twin sister, Wendy. Wendy is dating the guy who’s throwing the big Labor Day party. That seemed to me a little too convenient for the story, but whatever. The plot propels the story, and the story is a very familiar one.

The enjoyment of Take Me Home Tonight stems from the sweet characters. Even when Barry runs around snorting cocaine (hey, it was the 80s) and finds himself in a fancy Beverly Hills’ bathroom with a kinky couple, he still projects an enviable wide-eyed innocence that makes you want to just give him a hug. After he takes a shower, of course.

Australian actress Teresa Palmer plays Tori Frederking with the requisite hotness, but also the underlying sweetnissity that the movie aims for. Palmer looks so much like Kristen Stewart, at least in this movie, that we had to check the actresses’ name in the credits to verify it wasn’t her. She also carries some of Naomi Watts’ Australian cool charm. 

Over the course of this Tonight, Matt gets his ‘in’ with Tori, and then some. After he comes clean about working at Suncoast Video, he has to prove to Tori that he’s a decent guy after all. The climax seems cobbled together from the endings of Ferris Bueller and Better Off Dead (the big downhill ski competition especially), but Take Me Home Tonight won us over with its knowing charm for all things 80s and its even more retro wink to an earlier time when boys just wanted to talk to the girl of their dreams.


Theater location: Lowell Showcase, Tuesday, March 8, 6:55 bargain Tuesday show. Price $6.00. Viewed with Liz. Snacks--one apple, sliced.

Coming Attractions:

Arthur. Remake of the Dudley Moore/Liza Minnelli flick, this time around it's Russell Brand as the spoiled rich guy and Helen Mirren as the butler. Looks like a good vehicle for Brand.

Limitless.A decent idea that goes way too far. A schlubby, slacker of a writer (Bradley Cooper) is prescribed a variation of a smart drug, and he begins using 100% of his brain power, able to complete difficult math expressions, writing a great novel in a few days (ha, this really is a Hollywood movie). Of course, he's being used as a pawn for some corporation, and falls under the thumb of at first daddy-seeming, then evil-seeming Robert DeNiro. Looks like it could be entertaining.

Your Highness. "When Prince Fabious's bride is kidnapped, he goes on a quest to rescue her... accompanied by his lazy useless brother Thadeous." Natalie Portman plays straight lady to a goofy James Franco and Danny McBride.

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