RATING |

Nostalgia for the '80s - big hair, Madonna, cocaine, big hair, Duran Duran, more cocaine - is all well and good. Unless it's practiced with the charmless ineptitude of Take Me Home Tonight.

Starring Topher Grace - who, to his career detriment, also gets a "story by" credit - this sloppy comedy is as cheesy and out of date as the era it aspires to celebrate. The art direction and costumes are clearly a conscious choice, but if you're going to look back with affection (and/or irony), it helps to have something to say.

Grace plays Matt Franklin, an MIT grad who has returned to the San Fernando Valley family nest and taken a job at Suncoast Video while he figures out what to do with his life. His father (Michael Biehn) is a cop, his mother (Jeanie Hackett) is vacuous, his twin sister (Anna Faris, wearing an awkward grimace) is a smart aleck, and the pressure is on for Matt to make something of himself.

Then one day, Tori Frederking (Teresa Palmer), Matt's high school crush, walks into the Suncoast store. After fumbling with a stack of videos and trying to hide from the girl he had loved from afar, Matt finally finds himself talking to her - and shamelessly lying. Tori graduated from college and went to work for an investment bank, and so Matt, sans his vest and employee name tag, blurts that he too is in finance, working for Goldman Sachs.

"So, are you going to Kyle Masterson's party tonight?" she asks. Sure, he gulps, he is.

In the company of his sister and his bozo best bud (Dan Fogler), Matt rolls up to the party and proceeds to dig himself into a deeper and deeper pit of lies as it becomes evident that Tori is actually interested in him - or who he's pretending to be. Drugs and drink are consumed, dances are danced, flashbacks to high school are flashbacked. If there's a smart line of dialogue in the whole one-crazy-night scenario, I must have missed it.

Palmer, an Australian who can also be seen right now in I Am Number Four (she's Number Six), bears an eerie resemblance to Kristen Stewart - well, Kristen Stewart glammed-up in retro, Reagan-era mall wear. This can be distracting - you half expect members of Team Edward or Team Jacob to show up and toss one of the extras into Kyle's pool.

Demetri Martin, Lucy Punch, and Michael Ian Black have a few lines, and there are wild party stunts, a car crash, and, yes, a bag of cocaine.

Grace, late of That '70s Show, made Take Me Home Tonight way back in 2007, which sounds almost as ancient as the film's setting - 1988. It was titled Kids in America back then and apparently sat on a shelf all this time because studio execs were wary of the overt references to and depictions of drug use and debauchery. That's not a good reason to keep a movie out of circulation, but you kind of wish they had.EndText

Contact movie critic Steven Rea at 215-854-5629 or srea@phillynews.com.
Read his blog, "On Movies Online," at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/onmovies/