Things were bigger in the '80s: hairstyles, shoulder pads, Madonna and the casts of teen comedies. Ensembles like "Fast Times at Ridgemont High," "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" and "Revenge of the Nerds" had deep rosters of young talent, and watching them scrimmage onscreen was one of the pleasures of a mostly disposable film decade. The new period farce "Take Me Home Tonight" harks back to that era, playing like a zippy lost treasure from the days of VHS and Duran Duran.
Topher Grace portrays a prime specimen of science club zero, a bashful sweetheart recently graduated from MIT but stuck in emotional limbo. He's punching the clock at Suncoast Video, wisecracking with his doughy best bud (Dan Fogler) and nervous that his sister (Anna Faris) is going to leave the parental nest first by marrying her boyfriend, a rich doofus fond of pastel polo shirts with popped collars. If he's ever going to move out of the house, out of the mall and out of his rut, something's gotta change.
One encounter with his high school dreamgirl (Teresa Palmer), one big lie about a career at Goldman Sachs and one stolen Mercedes convertible later, he's on his way to a blow-out party that could make his dreams come true -- or put him in jail via the emergency room.
The movie is a winning rag bag of gags, combining fast-paced physical shtick with a sharply clever script. There's romantic comedy as Grace and Palmer work through the usual male-female misunderstandings, savvy period satire (as junior car salesman Fogler preens in his Gordon Gekko wardrobe) and "Jackass"-style stunt comedy (involving a breakneck ride down the Hollywood Hills in a steel sphere).
Grace is in top form as the dryly witty underachiever. He's persuasive as a guy whose I.Q. is greater than his weight, but perhaps too lively and good-looking to convince as a romantic underdog. Fogler throws himself into the evening's debaucheries with unrestrained enthusiasm. Faris makes a feast of her too-brief screen time as Grace's smart, smart-mouthed sister, a woman who wants to love her dull fiancé, but can't quite convince herself. Demetri Martin trips the light sarcastic as a nervy quadriplegic. Every character has a bit of depth and a degree of intelligence beyond what we see in many current comedies.
"Take Me Home Tonight" is a time capsule from the heyday of John Hughes and Cameron Crowe, when comedies allowed their characters to be human as well as humorous.