Take Me Home Tonight directed by Michael Dowse is a comedy about the ‘80s but its futility is timeless: In just about any decade it would be considered generic and unfunny. Set in 1988 it stars the likable and witty Topher Grace as Matt a recent MIT grad with a crippling case of post-college career-indecision. Working as a lowly clerk at a video store he has a chance encounter with his high-school crush Tori (Teresa Palmer) who to his (and our) surprise actually displays faint interest in him. But Matt fails to pull the trigger and so he resolves to make up for his lack of cojones when he sees her later that evening at a party hosted by the preppy douchebag boyfriend (Chris Pratt) of his twin sister Wendy (Anna Faris).
This sets the stage for an eventual romantic union between Matt and Tori; until then there is insecurity to overcome and wacky adventures to be had. Many of the latter stem from the increasingly unhinged behavior of Matt’s best friend Barry (Dan Fogler). The film turns on a bag of cocaine Barry finds in the glove compartment of a Mercedes stolen from the dealership that fired him earlier in the day. Cocaine is renowned for its ability to induce euphoria in even the most mundane of settings but it has arguably the opposite effect on Take Me Home Tonight. I consider Fogler to be a legitimately funny guy but he has the irritating tendency to compensate for underwritten material by wildly overacting. Throw in a bag of blow and that tendency is amplified ten-fold.
A happy standout in the film is Palmer who brings a liveliness and dignity to the stereotypical rom-com role of the Otherworldly Hottie Who Inexplicably Falls for the Stammering Schlub. (It also helps that she's the only member of the main cast who is young enough to realistically portray a recent college graduate.) She is one of the more talented young Australian exports to arrive on our shores in quite some time and has the potential to become a saucier version of fellow Aussie Nicole Kidman. That is if she finds material better than Take Me Home Tonight.
Dave Johnson’s (Morris Chestnut) dreams of playing in the major leagues have long been dashed and now he’s left to coach Little League and try to make a go of his modest construction firm. He’s a good guy but after more than a decade of marriage he’s is constantly harassed by his successful realtor/wife Clarice (Taraji P. Henson) and her obnoxious mother Mary (Jenifer Lewis). A tragic automobile accident brings things to a marital boiling point -- Clarice becomes housebound with severe leg injuries and Dave just might be attracted to the physical therapist Julie (Maeve Quinlan) a white single mother who has arrived to help out. Based on T.D. Jakes’ religious themed book Woman Thou Art Loosed this intense and old fashioned drama offers some meaty roles to some fine actors and they run with the opportunity -- particularly Chestnut who displays such warmth and likeability he seems almost too good to be true. Henson (The Curious Case Of Benjamin Button Hustle and Flow) has had a few good screen outings of late but probably could have taken it down just a notch to make Clarice just a little more empathetic. You almost wonder how poor Dave has lasted so long with this woman. Ditto Lewis. On the other hand the warm and understanding Quinlan is the perfect counterpoint pointing out a real crisis of conscience for Dave. Welcome comic relief comes in the form of his buddies Eddie Cibrian and particularly the highly amusing Kevin Hart. And watch for a restaurant-scene cameo by Jakes. Fortunately actor turned director Bill Duke knows how to rein in this tricky marital story and make its most important message -- tolerance and perseverance in relationships --somehow ring true. There may not be a whole lot of subtlety in this particular tale (or many of Jakes books in general) but it’s an agreeable and engrossing affair that’s worthy of attention from anyone involved in a long term relationship. And it’s certainly refreshing for once to see this kind of romantic drama played out almost entirely from the male point of view.