17 Again

17 Again

***

Reviewed by: Stephen Carty

Okay, so it’s pretty much a vehicle for Zack Efron, but so what? If you can manage to get yourself past the unnecessary High School Musical-type dance routine five minutes in, there's plenty charm and enough heart to win you over. Sure, it’s not laugh-out-loud funny as often as you’d like, but Effron’s Marty McFly-esque charm breezes us through.

Twenty years after throwing away a basketball scholarship to get married, middle-aged Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry) is stuck in a nothing job, adrift from his kids (Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight) and very disappointed with his life. Having been thrown out by his wife (Leslie Mann), Mike is reminiscing about the glory days when a mysterious man (Brian Doyle-Murray) magically transforms him into his younger self. With the help of childhood friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), the 17-again Mike (Efron) heads back to high school to do things right…

Copy picture

There are some problems - it’s largely predictable, there's too many weird moments that'd have Mike written off (a la the grating condom talk) and the manner in which the janitor who reminds us of Bill Murray (played by his brother Doyle-Murray) does the whole age-transformation is convoluted at best. And yet, in among the stereotypes there's a few touching moments and plenty of well-measured geek-nods.

Shame then, that these will be wasted on the audience mostly comprising teenage girls. Shame further that the wish-fulfilment of men-children everywhere getting to relive their teen years all over again (who wouldn't want the chance?) will also be wasted on the aforementioned girly gigglers. Funnily enough, it seems that middle-aged fan-boys might actually get as much out of 17 Again as the hordes of Effron-devoted teeny-boppers.

As it's also a fairly conventional body swap yarn, it's hard to escape the similarities/homages/borderline rip-offs to similar flicks. The adult-in-young-body-surviving-high-school aspect reminds us of Freaky Friday. The father-figure-trapped-in-a-boy's-body takes us back to Vice Versa. While there’s also plenty of Big going on there, the Back To The Future parallels are numerous - waking up thinking it's a dream, inappropriate fondling with a relative, using the situation as opportunity to get to know estranged family members...As for Mike standing up for his son against the school bully, it's pure George McFly.

Thankfully, these clichés are comforting rather than irritating thanks to a likeable turn from the impossibly handsome lead. He might be known for his toned abs, tooth-commercial superstar smile and swish, ripe-for-copycats hair, but here Effron proves he's got more range and comedic ability than you'd expect.

While the cynics will spend time complaining that he and Perry (who does the sarcastic schlub better than anyone) don't look alike, it's to the young man's credit that he frequently manages to pull off a decent Chandler (admittedly phoning Perry often to ask him how he'd say something).

In addition, Mann does a lot with not very much as the divorce-wanting wife, Lennon is a sometimes-hilarious scene-stealer as Mike's geeky rich buddy and Melora Hardin is superb (her facial expressions are priceless) as the object of his affections.

An excuse to showcase Zac? No doubt, but there's more plenty of light-hearted fun here for those able to embrace it for what it is. And you don't need a spirit guide to do that for you.

Reviewed on: 19 Jul 2009
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Age-swap comedy, Zac Efron style.
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If you like this, try:

Big
Freaky Friday
Stay Cool