After four years at M.I.T., Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) doesn't know what he wants to do with his life, and after nearly four years of sitting on a shelf, 'Take Me Home Tonight' isn't sure what it wants to be, either. Is it a knowing tribute to the "one crazy night" romps of the '80s? Is it an introspective coming-of-age dramedy that just happens to be set in the same era? The film starts out with big hair, skinny ties, and hit song after hit song after hit song, eager to capitalize on every possible pop-culture signpost early on before settling into a slack rhythm of sitcom setpieces interrupted by stale emotional conflict.
Matt's stuck in a post-grad rut; his biggest ambition is to not even to date Tori (Teresa Palmer), for whom he still harbors a high-school crush, but to simply get her number and maybe, eventually, work up the nerve to date her. Matt's stalker-like fascination pays off when she strolls into Suncoast Video one day and invites him to a party, believing that he works at Goldman Sachs and not in fact said video store. And so, with twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris) and boorish best bud Barry (Dan Fogler) in tow, Matt heads to a Labor Day blow-out, hoping to get the girl of his dreams and/or get on with his life.
None of these characters know what they want, and we're never given much reason to care. Matt, a proven math whiz, can't be bothered to land a cushy engineering job and only has eyes for one particular blonde. By the end, he's in much the same position. Meanwhile, Wendy hesitates to open a potential acceptance letter from Cambridge, lest it rocks the boat with her unlikely partner, the party-hearty Kyle (real-life spouse Chris Pratt), and the recently fired Barry tries very hard to binge on drink, drugs and dancing to make up for lost time. Their collective indecision is supposed to give the film its heart, but all it really does is set up terribly familiar moments of doubt and drama.
As for laughs, they are few and far between. As written by Jackie and Jeff Filgo ("That '70s Show"), the film veers between antics both raucous -- a sports car is stolen -- and raunchy, and director Michael Dowse ('It's All Gone Pete Tong') jumps from plot thread to plot thread with little concern for escalating stakes or simply building up comedic momentum. The audience is left with limp running gags involving a shrill floozy (Lucy Punch) who inexplicably believes that her and Matt are an item whenever they bump into one another and a climax built entirely around someone having the stones to roll down the nearest hill in a massive metallic sphere.
Grace's usually winning charms are toned down to the point where our protagonist seems simply too lazy to be a loser worth rooting for. Faris is unfortunately relegated to frumpy reaction shots and perhaps the most transparent subplot in a film full of them; Fogler, as always, hams it up to occasionally amusing effect; and Palmer serves as the picture-perfect ideal of love lost, able to exhibit slightly more charm than allowed by her recent roles in 'I Am Number Four' and 'The Sorcerer's Apprentice.' Only Demetri Martin, as a former school chum of Matt's, dares to demonstrate a flair for improvisation and thusly steals what few scenes he has.
At the end of the day, 'Take Me Home Tonight' has nothing on the films of Johns Cusack and Hughes, nor can it claim to rank with the likes of 'Superbad' or 'Adventureland' or 'Hot Tub Time Machine,' and one imagines that only a snort-along screening could possibly lend to the film the energy that it so desperately needs.
(With that said, no, we do not endorse the use of cocaine.)