Verdict: Zac To The Future ****
By Robbie Collin, 05/04/2009
STOP me if you've heard this one before, will you?
A depressed dad thinks his life amounts to nothing, until a kindly angel shows him the error of his ways after getting him to jump off a bridge.
No? OK, how about this-thanks to a time-travelling stunt, a loser goes back to high school to help out one relative while fending off the affections of another.
Not ringing any bells? Right, try this-a guy who wishes he was another age suddenly finds himself living in a different body.
Nope? All right, you must know this one-there's a hunky high school kid, played by Zac Efron, who's really good at dancing but wants to make a name for himself in the world of pro-basketball.
No? Well, congratulations, reader. Here's a movie the like of which you've never seen before.
17 Again. Or, as you might already know it: It's Back To The Wonderful Big Future Life, School Musical 3.
As shamelessly unoriginal a film as has ever parped its way off a Hollywood scribble-merchant's printer, it stars wax-faced, porcelain-grinned pod creature Zac, my future wife Leslie Mann from Knocked Up, and Matthew "Don't Call Me Chandler" Perry (17 Stone Again).
Nearly every last plot-point, character and gag in this half-term contender has been ripped off-brazenly-from other, better films.
But here's the thing. When those stolen goods are pieced together against the odds you get a very enjoyable, and often fantastically funny, teen movie.
Mike O'Donnell (Perry) feels like he's wasted his life. Twenty years ago, he found out his high school sweetheart Scarlett was pregnant so, rather than follow his dream into the college basketball circuit, he "does the right thing", gets married- and lives to regret it.
Now he's stuck with two kids (Sterling Knight and Gossip Girl's Michelle Trachtenberg) who can barely be bothered to talk to him; an estranged wife (Leslie Mann) who wants nothing to do with him unless he's signing their divorce papers; and a job where he's constantly playing second fiddle to younger, smarter, female colleagues. So when a mysterious old man asks if he'd like to have his time over again, Mike jumps at the chance.
One bare-faced lift of the river rescue scene from It's A Wonderful Life later, Mike emerges from the water-coughing, caked in mud and looking like Zac Efron.
He's 17 again and has a second chance at his high school senior year, where this time he can "get his priorities straight".
For Mike, these are training his son for the school basketball team, landing a college scholarship for himself, and keeping his daughter out of the sex-hungry clutches of the school bully.
And there we have the film's first genuine surprise. Sex. In a Zac Efron movie.
Parents be warned: 17 Again is a hell of a lot fruitier than the clean-cut High School Musical franchise. But that's no bad thing. Efron (or more likely, his agent) knows the then-tweenage fans of the first HSM film are now three years older... and ready for something racier.
And 17 Again delivers it. Inevitably, there are sex gags and Zac gets his shirt off, a lot. But some of it has a naughty, even taboo-breaking edge. Your toes will curl when teenage Mike lusts after his adult wife -and they'll tie into a full-on granny knot when he gets romantic attention from his teenage daughter.
It's been done before, of course, in Back To The Future. And plausibility is stretched a fair old bit. If I was Mike's wife, and a mysterious kid turned up who looked suspiciously like my other half, only one explanation would jump to mind-and it wouldn't be the "husband jumped into time vortex" one. But the point is, even though 17 Again might be one of the most cynical, unoriginal teen movies ever made, any doubts you might have soon evaporate thanks to the film's 24- carat likeability.
Charm like this cannot be faked. And aside from special mentions for Leslie Mann and the hilarious subplot in which Mike's nerdy best mate (Thomas Lennon) tries to date the headmistress (Melora Hardin), the film's success is almost entirely down to Zac.
High School Musical was the perfect showcase for this guy's charisma. And on the evidence here, he may be the first Disney Channel star to make the jump from tween idol to a proper big-screen star.
Which leads to an intriguing possibility-if he's still in work in 2029, Zac could do a remake playing his older self.
Although if he looks anything like Matthew Perry by that stage, he might well jump off the bridge for real.
There is also a nice video clip here.
LOL. That's a really nice review. I'd like to believe they'll all be that nice but I'm pretty sure they won't be. I'm still trying to figure out if Larry Carroll's twitter from yesterday night's screening was sarcasm or not. I'm pretty sure it was sarcasm, but since it rarely works in print, it's hard to know because that's something he should be well aware of by now. Anyway, I'm sure we'll find out later.
That said my goals in terms of reviews are: 60% positive range for the film in general but with Zac-oriented comments 90% positive.