Originally shot several years ago as “Kids in America,” “Take Me Home Tonight” is a pleasant-enough all-in-one-night comedy, featuring a protagonist facing the classic “Graduate”-like existential dilemma of post-college paralysis. Drug use, apparently, was the culprit that prompted the long-on-the-shelf delay, with the characters — set adrift in the San Fernando Valley circa 1988 — freely partaking of cocaine and wine coolers, in keeping with the times. Topher Grace has an amiable charm that makes for good company, and box office returns could be OK, provided younger auds can be coaxed to leave home by the generic romantic comedy-sounding title.
Frankly, the movie would be tolerable (and it’s a bit better than that) based strictly on its lovingly chosen collection of ’80s songs, although oddly, the Eddie Money tune that ostensibly provided the new title isn’t among them.
Grace — who co-conceived the story with fellow producer Gordon Kaywin — plays Matt, an MIT grad aimlessly killing time working at the local videostore. (Sadly, the made-over Sherman Oaks Galleria, memorably featured in “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” can no longer play itself, so lensing took place in Phoenix.)
Matt’s inner circle consists of his friend Barry (Dan Fogler, cast again as the crazy sidekick, providing broad slapstick-y relief), who skipped college to sell cars; and twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris), who is involved with a doofus named Kyle (Chris Pratt) in the kind of romance that threatens to siphon away her broader ambitions. Matt’s aimless summer is rocked, however, when his high-school dreamgirl, Tori (Teresa Palmer), walks into the vidstore, prompting him to lie that he, too, is working at an investment bank.
So Matt and Barry attend Kyle’s big Labor Day bash so Matt can try to hook up with Tori, “borrowing” a spiffy Mercedes from Barry’s dealership. Toss in a left-behind bag of coke and a side trip to a Beverly Hills party hosted by Tori’s pervy boss (Michael Ian Black), and the result is a series of episodic encounters as Matt tries to woo Tori, who, despite her bank job, turns out to be every bit as scared as he is.
Directed by Michael Dowse (“Fubar”), who scripted with the team of Jackie and Jeff Filgo, the movie has some nice small touches and some fundamental shortcomings. On the plus side, Tori appropriately enters to the strains of “Bette Davis Eyes,” and when Barry stumbles on the coke, Matt quips, “Take it easy, Scarface.” There’s also some nice interplay between Matt and his cop dad (Michael Biehn), who urges him to take a shot at, well, something.
Unfortunately, Palmer’s crush-worthiness notwithstanding, Matt — even once he gets past his initial awkwardness — really has nothing much to say to her, making the budding romance feel more like an arbitrary construct rather than an organic development in any way.
In that regard, Grace is the movie’s saving grace. As he demonstrated in “Win a Date With Tad Hamilton” (and “That ’70s Show,” which also took him back a generation), the actor makes a fine, easily relatable romantic underdog. The movie also benefits from cameos by the likes of Demetri Martin and Michael Ian Black.
In addition, the underlying premise — not knowing what you want to do with your life in your early 20s — is a timeless concept that should resonate across generations, including not only kids like Matt still living at home, but probably some of their antsy parents.
So the delayed release notwithstanding, “Take Me Home Tonight” feels like a pretty shrewd trip in the way-back machine, even if it’s not, to borrow another name from the Money catalog, a fully realized ticket to paradise.