Andy Bockelman: Gnarly 1980s clichés prominent in ‘Take Me Home Tonight’ | CraigDailyPress.com

Andy Bockelman: Gnarly 1980s clichés prominent in ‘Take Me Home Tonight’

Andy Bockelman is a member of the Denver Film Critics Society, and his movie reviews appear in Explore Steamboat and the Craig Daily Press.

In making any movie about the 1980s, there are always some go-to story elements. Among the other bits of same old, same old in "Take Me Home Tonight" are an orgy of ridiculous proportions, a stolen auto and at its center, a loser craving redemption.

With those minimal requirements covered, the cocaine, rolled-up jacket sleeves and break dancing are just gravy.

As part of MIT's graduating class of 1988, math wiz Matt Franklin (Topher Grace) should be putting his degree to good use at a prestigious job in engineering or any other such field. Instead, he's spent the summer back home in California working at the mall.

But, his tenure in minimum wage purgatory looks like it may have all been worth it when he runs into his high school dream girl, Tori Fredreking (Teresa Palmer). With a few well-placed fibs about his line of work, Matt arranges to meet up with her at the annual Labor Day bash hosted by their high school prom king (Chris Pratt).

Matt's twin sister, Wendy (Anna Faris), is skeptical of his chances, though his best friend, Barry (Dan Fogler), insists that tonight could, nay, will be the best night of their lives. But, as the evening begins, Matt is no less nervous that he'll ruin the one opportunity he's ever had with Tori if the truth comes out.

With a screenplay by "That '70s Show" writers Jackie and Jeff Filgo, Grace, who also contributed to the story, must have experienced a slight case of déja vu during filming, but he's just as convincing as a dork in the '80s. At least in this decade, he plays a character with a brain, with Matt able to calculate foreign exchange rates at a moment's notice, though his intellect doesn't preclude him from making an escalating amount of poor choices in one night.

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Of course, most of these are made by Barry, ably played by Fogler, who's always worth a watch in the part of a blustering best friend, this time as a recently fired car salesman who exacts his revenge by swiping a cherry Mercedes convertible with nose candy in the glove compartment. Faris seems withdrawn as Matt's more sensible sibling, who's facing her own huge life choices, forced to pick between graduate school and an impromptu proposal from one-time boyfriend Pratt, the actress's real-life spouse.

At least Wendy isn't as broadly drawn as Tori, with Palmer bringing little power to the role of the beauty who would rather be appreciated for her mind, even if she doesn't mind flaunting her "boob power" and the talent for knowing when guys are checking out her cleavage.

Classy.

Borrowing liberally from "Sixteen Candles," "License to Drive," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and plenty more, this latest salute to the Reagan years may be heavy on formula, but it still has some very human characters besieged by the pressures of being unceremoniously dropped into the real world. The flaw here is that Grace, Faris and Fogler are about 10 years too old to be playing early twentysomethings, and even though this movie was shot in 2007 and shelved until now, the three of them, as well as other cast members, look like they're well beyond this stage of their lives.

Setting this story in the '80s is an odd choice, too, with few of the retro-based jokes that were prominent in recent comedies like "Hot Tub Time Machine" and "Adventureland." Even more puzzling is the absence of the title tune by Eddie Money and Ronnie Spector, with songs by purely '80s bands like Wang Chung, Duran Duran and Men Without Hats blaring in the background at all times.

Nevertheless, Matt and Barry's lip-syncing of N.W.A.'s "Straight Outta Compton" is worth some laughs.

With more age-appropriate leads and some biting commentary, "Take Me Home Tonight" could have been much more memorable.

Still, set in a year when failures like New Coke, Betamax and "Ishtar" were still lingering in American culture, such blunders don't seem quite so gratuitous.

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‘Take Me Home Tonight’

2.5 out of 4 stars

97 minutes

Starring: Topher Grace, Teresa Palmer, Anna Faris and Dan Fogler.

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