Movie Review

Take Me Home Tonight

Same old story, but that’s OK

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By Ty Burr
Globe Staff / March 4, 2011

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Why on earth has “Take Me Home Tonight’’ been sitting on the shelf since it finished shooting in early 2007? It’s not that bad. Completely unoriginal, sure, but watchable and even likable.

Maybe “Superbad’’ coming out later that year just bigfooted the whole two-nerds-at-a-wild-and-crazy-party genre. Maybe there were too many comedies where a one-time high school geek tries to woo the prom queen of his dreams. Maybe star Topher Grace was right when he said in a recent interview that the original studio flinched at all the cocaine abuse; the movie is set in the 1980s, with the requisite big hair, shoulder pads, and nose candy of choice.

About Topher Grace: Why isn’t this guy a movie star? Why is a fatuous prat like Ashton Kutcher, his “That 70’s Show’’ castmate, an A-list dude, while Grace, with all his watchful, quick-witted intelligence — he makes dryness charismatic — is swimming in the backwaters of movies like “Predators’’ and “Spider-Man 3’’? “Take Me Home Tonight’’ doesn’t solve the riddle other than demonstrating that Grace has the grace to get a bald retread humming acceptably down the road.

He plays Matt Franklin, just graduated from MIT, paralyzed with indecision and working at a video store in Los Angeles. It’s 1988, and all the ambitious kids are getting jobs at Drexel Burnham, so when Matt’s onetime crush Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer) sashays into the mall, he steps out of uniform and pretends he’s at Goldman Sachs. Oh, the post-meltdown irony.

“Take Me Home Tonight’’ — it was called “Kids in America’’ and “Young Americans’’ at various points in its benighted life and at this point doesn’t even have the clout to get the rights to the Eddie Money title song — hews faithfully to the ’80s party-on template. There’s a raucous best friend, played by Dan Fogler as if he were channeling every Curtis Armstrong role ever, and there’s a preening preppie dude (Chris Pratt) for us to hate. Gratuitous nudity, check. A run-in with the cops, check. A showdown with dad (’80s survivor Michael Biehn), double-check.

That said, it’s nice to see Anna Faris as Matt’s twin sister. She has some of the lazy, drop-dead humor of “That 70s Show,’’ not surprising since the show’s writers scripted this movie. And Palmer does interesting things with the rote part of The Girl. She comes across as Kristen Stewart with a personality rather than an attitude, and since she’s currently stealing “I Am Number 4’’ out from under its putative stars, she can be said to have moved on.

I wish I could say the same for Grace, who deserves better than a microwaved John Cusack role like this. That he makes the movie work for him at all, that “Take Me Home Tonight’’ has a genial sweetness that makes you forgive the fact that we’ve seen it so very many times before, is cause for hope. But some of us wish he were moving forward, rather than looking back.

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TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT Directed by: Michael Dowse.

Written by: Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Topher Grace,

and Gordon Kaywin.

Starring: Topher Grace, Teresa Palmer, Anna Faris,

Dan Fogler, Michael Biehn.

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs.

Running time: 100 minutes.

Rated: R (language, sexual content, drug use).

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