If Topher Grace seems a natural fit in “Take Me Home Tonight,” an ’80s-themed coming-of-age comedy opening Friday in which he plays an underachieving MIT grad stuck working a dead-end job at the mall, the reasons could be twofold.
For one, Grace, 32, starred for eight years in “That ’70s Show,” the TV comedy in which he played Eric Forman, a bright but directionless teen struggling to find his path, often while partying with his hapless friends. Matt Franklin, his character in “Tonight,” could be Eric a decade removed.
Grace has filled out since his sitcom days. So has his résumé. He was the menacing Venom in 2007’s “Spider-Man 3” and a cunning serial killer in last year’s “Predators.” In person, he speaks with the confidence of a onetime kid star now writing and producing his own movies, “Tonight” being the first.
But Grace knows guys like Matt, or at least he did, growing up in suburban Darien, Conn. In the movie, Matt spends his days idling behind the cash register of a Suncoast Video. So too did Grace.
“I worked at a Suncoast at the mall for two summers, and my theory was that I would just watch movies all summer long — I wasn’t that social at the time,” he says. “Then I got there and they played one movie the whole time, [the Michael Jordan-Looney Tunes collaboration] ‘Space Jam.’
“One of the finest films ever made,” he adds drily. “I’m really lucky I got to watch it 3,000 times.”
When Grace wanted to re-create his Suncoast days, he thought about papering the store with posters for his favorite ’80s movies. (“Back to the Future” tops his list.) But when it came time to program the video playing next to the register, he didn’t pick “Space Jam.”
“We chose ‘Harry and the Hendersons’ — that’s not a movie you’d make now,” he says, understating the obvious. “But I’d like to announce that I’ll be starring in the reboot.”
Joking aside, Grace took his nostalgia seriously, preferring to celebrate the decade rather than hold it up to mockery. For the soundtrack to his character’s wild evening of partying and self-discovery, he wanted a mix of big hits and less obvious choices, including NWA’s “Straight Outta Compton.”
One number you won’t hear? Eddie Money’s bombastic rocker “Take Me Home Tonight,” featured in the film’s TV commercials.
“We felt like we already burned people out on that song,” Grace says. “To play it in the movie would have been overkill.”
IF YOU GO
Take Me Home Tonight
Starring Topher Grace, Anna Faris, Dan Fogler, Teresa Palmer, Chris Pratt
Written by Jackie Filgo, Jeff Filgo, Topher Grace, Gordon Kaywin
Directed by Michael Dowse
Running time 1 hour, 37 minutes