John Hughes made some of the best teen movies of the 80s. His work is often imitated but rarely equalled (although credit must go to the recent Easy A for being a film worthy of its roots). And so we come to Take Me Home Tonight, a teen movie set in the 80s which seems to have all the trappings of Hughes’ oeuvre but without any of his sharply observed wit or humour.
Aimless MIT graduate Matt Franklin, instead of getting a job in engineering like his dad wants, now works in his local video store. He’s still obsessed with his high school sweetheart Tori (Teresa Palmer) and so his heart leaps when she’s seen browsing the racks. Desperate not to seem like a loser, he invents a wild story about working for Goldman Sachs before arranging to meet her at the annual party of his twin sister’s boyfriend.
He’s accompanied by irresponsible loud mouth Barry (Dan Fogler), recently fired from his job at the local car dealership. Realising that he’ll need a ride if Matt’s going to keep up the ruse, the disgruntled Barry steals a car off the lot only to find cocaine in the glove compartment and go off on a drug-addled binge.
Predictably, Matt can’t keep his secret for long and as his lies deepen, so does the cost of Tori finding out the truth.
There’s no reason why Take Me Home Tonight should be set in the 80s apart from the references to banking and that graduates were actually employable back then. Beyond that, it’s seems like a limp excuse to use Motley Crue, Duran Duran and Men Without Hats in the soundtrack and dress everyone in shoulder pads and big hair.
Topher Grace’s understated humour is a welcome contrast to Dan Fogler constant state of mania and if (heaven forbid) anyone were to remake the Hughes’ classic Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, he wouldn’t be out of place in the title role. But likability isn’t enough to carry a comedy and the lines that he and his co-stars are given are so inane that they’re reduced to perfectly coiffed automatons designed with no other purpose than to fire out jokes at the end of every sentence.
Dan Fogler is rapidly carving a niche out for himself occupied by the much funnier likes of Chris Farley or John Candy before him – that of the humorous anarchic fat man. But the scrapes that he gets himself into – getting jacked up on cocaine and challenging another partygoer to a dance off; having sex in the bathroom with a predatory nymphomaniac cougar, are desperate pleas for attention which aren’t funny.
After failing to engage with its predictable plot, Take Me Home Tonight doesn’t know how to end. Having screwing up his chances of a relationship with Tori, Matt decides that the best way to get her back would be to ride in a gigantic metal ball mounted in the back of a pickup truck. This is part of coming of age ritual in which participants are dared to sit in the sphere and be rolled down a hill overlooking a perilous part of Los Angeles canyon, risking life and limb for the respect of their peers.
Naturally, Matt boards the ball and survives the ride and Tori loves him for it – a humungous cop out with the only possible conclusion of “all your problems can be solved if you take needlessly pointless risks”. Ironically risks are what Take Me Home Tonight could do with as it’s an amiable but tepid slice of nostalgia that destined for life on the DVD budget racks.