To listen to some of the recent tributes to Ronald Reagan, you might be led to believe that the 1980s were a shimmering gilded age, in which it regularly rained gold coins, love and happiness reigned supreme, and everyone was wealthy, healthy and carrying on like the Carringtons from “Dynasty.” A similarly fatuous view of the decade can be found in “Take Me Home Tonight,” an excruciating, would-be wacky comedy that knows almost nothing about the time in which it’s supposedly set. It’s as if Jeff Filgo and Jackie Filgo cooked up this putrid screenplay after flipping through a few back issues of Details and fast-forwarding through a random assortment of John Hughes movies. Call it “Some Kind of Horrible.”
The movie takes its title from an Eddie Money hit with a memorably mindless ad-lib in the middle of it. “I feel a hunger,” Eddie growls as he begs for love; unable to come up with a rhyme for “hunger,” Eddie ingeniously elaborates: “It’s a hunger!”
The script of “Take Me Home Tonight” is just about as witty.
The story steals most of its plot threads from Michael J. Fox’s “The Secret of My Success” and Melanie Griffith’s “Working Girl,” both of which are far funnier and smarter than “Tonight.” Add up all the laughs here, and you'll have a number Elvis Costello and Bret Easton Ellis both warned us about: less than zero.
Throughout high school, Matt (Topher Grace, who somehow manages to survive the film with his dignity relatively intact) carried a tall torch for Tori (twinkly Teresa Palmer), who has grown up to become a chic investment banker. So when Tori strolls into the Suncoast Video store where he works, fast-thinking Matt pretends to be a rising star at Goldman Sachs. Impressed, Tori invites him to join her at the big Labor Day bash that night, which, coincidentally enough, is hosted by preppie prince Kyle (Chris Pratt), the same guy who is about to shack up with Matt’s sister, Wendy (Anna Faris).
You know Kyle must be a loser because the collar of his Polo shirt is permanently turned up, perhaps to match his nose. Wendy, meanwhile, is supposedly a brilliant author of short stories —she could have been dubbed the next Tama Janowitz, if the filmmakers had the slightest idea who Tama Janowitz was — with dreams of attending grad school at Cambridge. At least she has a goal: Matt attended the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, but has no idea what to do with his life. much to the dismay of his dad (Michael Biehn, former star of "The Terminator" and "The Abyss").
When Matt whines that he doesn't even know what to aim for in life, his father enthusiastically urges him to "take wild shots: Hell, it's something just to hear the gun go off!" It's hard to say if daddy is talking about the unparalleled thrill of job interviews, or if he's suggesting Matt become a sniper.
Exactly how long these people have been away from the ivy-covered halls of academia is one of the film’s many puzzling questions. While they talk as if they just got their degrees and generally behave as if it’s the end of Finals Week, everyone looks like his or her 30th birthday is a fairly distant memory.
Then again, “Tonight” can’t even commit to a time period. The soundtrack is swamped with early-‘80s tracks like Duran Duran’s “Hungry Like the Wolf” and Yaz’s “Situation,” yet there are copies of “Biloxi Blues” and “Twins” (both released in 1988) on the shelves of Matt’s store. At Kyle’s party, supposedly cutting-edge Californians wear New Wave fashions from the dawn of the decade, but a man-hungry airhead (a poorly used Lucy Punch) and her friends are dressed like Madonna in 1985’s “Desperately Seeking Susan.” There are jokes about N.W.A.’s “Straight Outta Compton” and Dustin Hoffman’s “Rain Man,” both of which debuted in 1988, yet partiers gleefully bop around to Men Without Hats’ “The Safety Dance” and show off their break-dancing moves, behaviors that would have gotten you instantly ejected from any trendy bash, post-1984.
It would be easier to forgive the muddled timeline and lack of pop-culture smarts if the movie was funny or charming or had any insights whatsoever into the 1980s psyche. “Tonight,” however, has none of those things. Like a bad power-ballad from the early MTV days, the screenplay substitutes sheer bombast and shrillness for substance and style. Even the usually spunky Faris is steamrollered by the heavy-handedness of Michael Dowse's direction, and Terry Stacey's unflattering cinematography leaves everyone looking less than their best.
Dan Fogler, still laboring under the delusion that he is the new black (Jack Black, that is), howls and bellows and sweats profusely as Matt’s unhinged, recently unemployed buddy. But he’s overexerting himself in vain: He’s far more irritating and obnoxious than he is humorous, and a lengthy scene in which he’s sexually ravaged on a bathroom floor by a voluptuous vixen (Angie Everhart) — while her drooling voyeur of a boyfriend lingers nearby — ranks as the nadir in a movie that’s little more than one low point after another. The sequence won't move you to laugh, but it does manage to do something truly astonishing: It actually makes you nostalgic for the wicked wit and comic finesse of "Porky's."