By STEVE SPEARS
Times Staff Writer
Nostalgia is big business in Hollywood these days, as a new generation of filmmakers cashes in the memories of faded youth and takes its own hot tub time machine back to simpler times in search of box office gold — or at least impressive soundtrack sales.
The latest entry is Take Me Home Tonight, a movie that borrows its title from an Eddie Money song from 1986. It's an odd choice because the song doesn't appear in the movie, and nobody takes anybody home this particular night.
Instead, what we get is 24 hours in the life of Matt Franklin, played with charm and ease by Topher Grace of That '70s Show fame in another return to the past, this time the late 1980s. Matt is a recent MIT graduate — a genius with math — who has returned to his L.A. home to live with his disappointed parents and tread water as a clerk in a mall video store until he can figure out what to do next.
(History lesson No. 1: This is the '80s; good jobs were actually plentiful, so his job choice will be confounding to today's college grads.)
Enter Tori Frederking (the stunning Teresa Palmer), Matt's high school crush and enduring obsession who just happens to wander into his store. After Matt cues up the predictable "I don't really work here" line, he's invited by Tori to a party that night and our story is finally under way.
(History lesson No. 2: The whole "men being honest with women" thing didn't kick in until at least 1993. Sorry, Tori.)
Matt's best bud, Barry (played deliciously over the top by Dan Fogler), and "twin" sister Wendy (a too-small role for the very talented Anna Faris) join in the adventure. Each has their own sad side story to resolve before the film's 90-some minutes expire.
Once the gang of misfits steals a luxury auto, finds a stash of cocaine and reaches the party full of old high school classmates, a sudden realization may sweep over fans of the '80s genre:
Take Me Home Tonight feels very much like 1987's Less Than Zero, if that story's writer Bret Easton Ellis did it as a comedy, not a tragedy. Here, the plot is a little more predictable; count the minutes until Matt fesses up to Tori about his real job after a sexual romp that will change the way you look at trampolines. Still, the film's integrity is saved by Grace's doe-eyed innocence, a remarkable trait he retains at age 32. That he channeled the '70s so effectively earlier in his career makes this movie more believable as the simple time capsule it was no doubt intended to be.
Rumor has it that Take Me Home Tonight has been sitting on the shelf of the studio for four years while execs toiled over cutting footage that makes light of drug use. The scenes ultimately were preserved, and we get to see the '80s again — at least as a few dozen hell-raising SoCal teens once saw it.
(Final history lesson: Sometimes it's better to leave the past alone.)
Steve Spears is the host of the Stuck in the '80s blog and podcast. Read more at tampabay.com/blogs/80s.