17 Again ** ½
Directed By: Burr Steers.
Written By: Jason Filardi.
Starring: Zac Efron (Mike O'Donnell), Leslie Mann (Scarlett O'Donnell), Thomas Lennon (Ned Gold), Matthew Perry (Mike O'Donnell – Adult), Sterling Knight (Alex O'Donnell), Michelle Trachtenberg (Maggie O'Donnell), Hunter Parrish (Stan), Melora Hardin (Principal Jane Masterson).
Zac Efron is attractive in a completely non-threatening way. It is easy to see why his legion of tween girl fans worship him, and why the parents do not seem to mind that obsession all that much. Efron seems like the type of kid that you want your daughter to bring home.
In his new film, 17 Again, Efron plays a 37 year old man who through some magic, that you just have to accept unless you want to ruin the whole movie for yourself, becomes 17 Again. When he was 17 the first time, he gave up his dream of going to University on a basketball scholarship when his girlfriend Scarlett (played by Leslie Mann as the adult version) informs him that she is pregnant. Now, all these years later, O’Donnell (played by Matthew Perry as an adult) is miserable in his life and job. It is not that he does not love his wife, or two kids Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight). He just wonders what his life would have been like had he made different decisions. When he wakes up to discover that his a 17 year old again, he sees it as his opportunity - both to win back the love of his family, but perhaps also to get the life he always thought he wanted.
Efron, it must be said, does a very good in his role. No, he looks like Matthew Perry, but he is strangely convincing as a middle aged man trapped in the body of a teenager. While I cannot help but wonder what a movie like this would look like if instead of trying to reconnect with his and wife, Michael had decided to simply screw his way through high school - the girls really do seem to be in love with them. I am sort of surprised that a director from Japan or Korea has not gone all Oldboy on the premise like this and had the guy get younger and ends up sleeping with his daughter. Someone call Paul Verhoeven, he would do it brilliantly and have him get to work on that on.
But that would obviously be a very different movie, and it really isn’t fair to criticize this movie for not being quite as perverted as I am (although, I do think it says something about how uninteresting the movie is that I spent time thinking about this). For what this movie is, it actually is nowhere near as bad as I thought it would be. Efron is fun in his role. Leslie Mann is funny and vulnerable as a woman who is getting divorced even if she does not really want to - she just cannot spend her life with someone so miserable. Thomas Lennon is very good as Mike’s geek of a best friend - who made a fortune in computers and knows how to speak elvish who falls for the high school principal (played by the wonderful Melora Hardin, who is wonderful as Jan on The Office). Sterling Knight is fine as Mike and Scarlett’s geeky son who is hiding his basketball ability and I think Michelle Trachtenberg did a fine job as well, even if every time she was on screen I kept wondering why this woman who playing a teenager nearly a decade ago on Buffy was still playing teenagers.
The film is exactly what you would suspect it would be, and to be honest is actually quite entertaining in fits and starts. The film has a number of great wonderful one liners, which are delivered with flair and style by the cast. Overall though, the movie does not add up to very much. I enjoyed a lot of it, but all too often the movie reverts to clichés. The movie functions on autopilot for much of its running time. Director Burr Steers is just the latest in the long line of talented indie directors who have sold out and made something beneath them (Steers breakthrough film was the wonderful Igby Goes Down). But 17 Again is not as bad as you would think it would be. It’s a fine little movie for tween girls - but anyone above that age group is probably going to be a little disappointed.