ON THE SILVER SCREEN: "TAKE ME HOME TONIGHT" DOESN'T HAVE WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A GOOD COMEDY

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By Brian Lafferty

March 6, 2011 (San Diego) – Take Me Home Tonight suffers from a severe case of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. It has trouble staying focused. Every time the film gets on track, there’s always something that derails it. If they had made it solely about the two leads, it wouldn’t have been such a slog to sit through.

 



Topher Grace stars as an aimless video store clerk who falls for his high school crush, played by Teresa Palmer. The two fall in love, but standing in their way are obnoxious characters, cringe-worthy humor, and an uninspired plot surrounded with a bunch of unnecessary subplots.

The best thing about this movie is the romance between Grace and Palmer. Unlike every other character, their roles are written and acted with depth, ambition, and intelligence. Everyone else apparently got short shrift during the development process. Every scene these two are in together feel like an entirely different, and better, movie. Why didn’t the film spend more time with them?

When I review movies, I believe in being kind to actors. Sometimes I think I’m kind to a fault. Having worked with actors in film school, albeit with amateur student actors, and having performed in short films myself, I understand the pressures. Usually bad acting is due to a lack of solid direction or some other reason that usually isn’t the actor’s fault.

Dan Fogler’s character is the worst part of this movie. Every scene he was in made me squirm. I don’t mind obnoxious characters as long as I find them likeable. I remember Michael Keaton in Beetlejuice (which was released the same year this movie takes place). In that movie, he played with bravado a freewheeling, crude “bio-exorcist.” I enjoyed it because of his great timing and because he was hilarious.

But Dan Fogler isn’t funny at all. I admire his wanting to go full-force but the results are often disastrous. His timing is constantly off because he’s focused on being loud and crazy. He’s thoroughly annoying to the point of really hating the character.

I will be fair, however. Part of the blame goes to the screenwriters but a lot of it goes to director Michael Dowse, who apparently couldn’t help him find the right note. Didn’t it occur to him that maybe he needed some good direction?

Just as bad as the insipid supporting cast are the gags. The ambition I can admire but some of these attempts at humor are downright jaw-droppingly unbelievable.

Like when Barry meets a voluptuous older woman at a party. The movie contrives a sex scene between them in the men’s room. What makes this scene weird and uncomfortable is her insistence that her male friend watch them. Theoretically, such material could be funny. Here, it’s stilted, awkward, and it made me feel unclean.

Take Me Home Tonight is supposed to be set in the year 1988 but everything in it is contemporary. It certainly has the music. What it doesn’t have is any true, deep insight into the lives and minds of young adults in the 1980s. It lacks the atmosphere seen in many movies during that time. Michael Jackson posters, videocassettes, and cell phones larger than most cordless phones can only go so far.

Take Me Home Tonight is currently playing at local theaters.

A Relativity Media release. Directed by Michael Dowse. Written by Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Topher Grace, and Gordon Kaywin. Cinematography by Terry Stacey. Music by Trevor Horn. With Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, and Teresa Palmer. Rated R.

Brian Lafferty can be reached at Brian@eastcountymagazine.org. You can follow him on Twitter: @BrianLaff