From the opening image of a boombox playing “Video Killed The Radio Star,” it’s apparent that Take Me Home Tonight—a comedy about the ’80s that’s been sitting on the shelf so long, it’s practically a product of the period it chronicles—is more interested in cheap nostalgia than in subverting clichés about the Reagan era. Like Can’t Hardly Wait, it’s a curiously straight-faced attempt to make an ’80s comedy for an audience too young to remember the halcyon days of Alf. Take Me Home Tonight faces the same perplexing question as Can’t Hardly Wait: Sure, you can make a mediocre ’80s-style sex comedy in 1997 or 2011 (or 2007, when Take Me Home Tonight was filmed), but why would you want to?
In a role that banks far too hard on his innate likeability, Topher Grace (who also co-wrote the story) stars as an underachieving MIT grad whose big dreams have led only to a dispiriting gig at Suncoast Video. A chance encounter with dream girl Teresa Palmer reignites Grace’s go-getting spirit, however, so he pretends to be a high-flying recent Goldman Sachs hire to impress her, and embarks on one crazy night alongside corpulent cut-up Dan Fogler.
It’s always nice to see the largely M.I.A. Grace in a lead role, but his whitebread protagonist is distinguished solely by a Rain Man-like gift for crunching numbers in his head, and everyone else is drawn in exceedingly broad strokes. Of the overqualified cast—Bob Odenkirk literally shows up just to shoot Fogler an angry look—only Demetri Martin makes an impression with a nasty, funny cameo as a high-school classmate of Grace’s who doesn’t let being in a wheelchair keep him from being a raging asshole. Grace and his collaborators set out to make a typical ’80s sex comedy and succeeded all too well; most of the movies they’re paying homage to weren’t very good, either.