Mark Reviews Movies


2 ˝ Stars (out of 4)

Director: Michael Dowse

Cast: Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt, Michael Biehn

MPAA Rating: R (for language, sexual content and drug use)

Running Time: 1:37

Release Date: 3/4/11

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Review by Mark Dujsik | March 4, 2011

A nonspecific bit of 1980s nostalgia, Take Me Home Tonight works better when it pauses in between its shallow gags and observes the angst of the recent college graduate without the rowdy lens of contemporary popular music, crimes and misdemeanors of both the harmless and destructive variety, and cocaine-induced shenanigans. Like its aimless main character, the movie finds unexpected success when it's being sincere.

Another movie following the "one wild night to change your miserable life" motif, the story follows Matt Franklin (Topher Grace), a good-hearted slacker, who just graduated from MIT and is working at a video store in the mall because he's just not sure an engineering career is the right move for him. He can't—or maybe doesn't think he can—explain why to his parents, especially to his father (Michael Biehn), who insists he didn't spend a quarter of his savings on tuition for his boy to watch the kid work at a video store in the mall his whole life.

Dad has a point and so does Matt, and that's where the movie's greatest strength lies. It's hard to dislike any of these characters. The movie's greatest weakness is that it's just as difficult to get behind them.

Matt meets up with his old high school crush Tori (Teresa Palmer) while he's working (He makes a mad dash to take off his uniform and look like a normal guy who just happens to be browsing through VHS selections like she is). She mentions a party this weekend and asks if he's going.

Along for the ride is Matt's best friend, a one-man motley crew named Barry (Dan Fogler), who gets fired from his job from a car dealership after pressing one too many customer buttons ("I skipped college for you bastards," he howls, and, despite his crude personality, we can't help but sympathize with this unanticipated rut). Also around is Matt's twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris), who applied for graduate school at Cambridge but is too afraid of the implications with how her boyfriend (Chris Pratt) will respond to open the letter from the university. Matt hopes to finally get up the nerve ask Tori out on a date.

There are enough relatable and commiserative circumstances for these characters for them to stand on their own, and they're necessary developments to put the subsequent recklessness in perspective. It all starts when Barry decides to steal his ex-boss' prized convertible from the lot where he used to work.

Actually, it begins before that when Matt lies to Tori about being an investment banker so he doesn't look like a loser, but the car is an important tipping point. Inside the glove compartment is a bag of cocaine. Barry is intent on catching up with all the partying he imagines he would have done in college, and binge drinking followed by snorting the white powder for the first time leads him down an uncharacteristically safe road to drug-fueled antics.

The three central characters' paths diverge, as Barry has sex with a freaky stranger (while her freakier partner watches), Matt gets to know Tori, and, rarest and with the least purpose, Wendy starts to learn that her boyfriend might not be the supportive guy she never thought he was. We can admire how screenwriters Jackie and Jeff Filgo keep that view of basic decency toward their characters (even Wendy's dense beau is just misguided but genuine in his own, well, pretty dense way), even while they do stupid things for a laugh.

A few of the jokes, like Barry's dance-off with a guy who's learned every current dance move under the sun, are at least amusing. At times, the tone is wildly divergent, never more so than during a confrontation between Matt and his father after dad catches him and Barry in the stolen car (The lead-up to it, as Matt points out his situation couldn't be worse as it becomes worse with each new development, is solid). The scene goes from tough love to parental extortion to mean practical joke so quickly that the ultimate result of sincere fatherly encouragement feels uncomfortable.

Take Me Home Tonight does handle the blossoming relationship between Matt and Tori with much more consideration. There are some sweet moments between the two, and inevitable bump in the road when she learns he's been lying about his career feels more natural than it could have. Even this, though, goes downhill, literally, when Matt makes a determined choice to put himself on the line for the girl by partaking in a nearly suicidal act involving a man-sized metal ball, a hill, and gravity. Gravity wins.

Copyright © 2011 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.

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