This movie is what I generally like to refer to as Good Clean American Family Values Fun. Don’t get me wrong: I think that the US is the most magnificent country in the world. But I feel the need to (however gratuitously) add the disclaimer that this is an American movie, which shows due and proper regard for decency and standards promoting family values and protecting our children.
That being said, “17 again” is a generation-jumping comedy and essentially a fairy tale in the tradition of “Peggy Sue got married”, “Monkey Business”, “Big”, “13 going on 30”, “Freaky Friday”, etc. The question if you went back in time armed with the knowledge that you have now, what decisions would you alter and what would the outcome be, is one often deliberated - with varying creativity and preponderance.
The ever-present morale of „there is no place like home“ is referenced again and again ever since Toto tried to jump that cat in the Emerald Palace. Likewise “be careful what you wish for” and “be grateful for what you have”. Americans just love movies with a positive message that serve as cautionary tale and punch-line. Sadly Toto never left Kansas.
Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron) has it all: he is a popular high school senior, headed for a basketball scholarship and is about to take the court for the big game when his beautiful girlfriend Scarlett tells him that she is pregnant. He makes a pivotal decision and gives it all up to settle down with her.
Twenty years later Mike (old Mike: Matthew Perry) is in a rut. His life did not turn out the way he expected. His is on the brink of a divorce from his wife (Leslie Mann), his kids loathe him and his career is at a dead end. He crashes with his best buddy nerd-turned-billionaire Ned (Thomas Lennon) who owns an unparalleled collection of sci-fi memorabilia.
Mike starts to wonder whether he made the right choices in life and how much better things could be if he had chosen a different path. He visits his old High School and reminisces over his past glory wishing he could do it all over again. Enter the mysterious janitor. With some movie magic, he is sucked into a time warp thingy (like in Austin Powers) and finds himself 17 again (as young Mike: Zac Ephron).
Pubescent Mike now tries to convince Ned that he is still old Mike in young Mike’s rippling body. This is resolved during a fierce Lightsaber Showdown. Seriously, I love it!
Ned gathers all the appropriate psychic, plejadian and paranormal literature and they cleverly deduce that Mike’s spirit guide, the Janitor, must have a serious learning experience planned: Mike obviously has to re-live his senior year to get the chance he thought he never had.
So far, so deep.
The faux teen enrolls back in the old High School. Mike is cool once again, preachy, but oh so dreamy. But when he meets his own children Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight), Mike realizes, this may not be all about him eventually.
Has Mike been taking his life for granted? Can he transform himself back and rescue his family? And can he advocate abstinence without getting his ass kicked?
Director Burr Steers and writer Jason Filardi are not trying to re-invent comedy. And that is oddly refreshing. There are a number of heavy glitches though. Matthew Perry is about 10 feet taller than Zac Ephron. And if some kid, who looked exactly like my husband suddenly showed up at my doorstep, I wouldn’t calmly touch his face in bewilderment - maybe only to snap a DNA hair sample in the process. But since this movie has some sense of humor about itself, that is forgivable. Overall this looks like it was made with affection & care. It is solid, light-hearted entertainment, no matter how illogical.
Thomas Lennon as Mike’s nerdy friend is an absolute scene-stealer. Fantastic. And when he starts to put the moves on Principal Jane Masterson (played by Melora Hardin) the sparks just fly (and not just from the Lightsabers!).
Some might not be familiar with Zac Ephron, the phenomenon. He starred in the High School Musical trilogy (which I am boycotting, yes, the Vatican isn’t the only one who can boycott movies!) and as the loveable Link Larkin in Hairspray (2007). Or maybe as that guy dancing next to Beyonce and Wolverine at the Oscars. He will irrevocably launch his movie career with this and God knows where in the stratosphere it will take him. He is acting a little too overzealous for my taste, but who can blame him after all those musicals, really. It will be interesting to see which road he is headed for: Leo DiCaprio, Ricky Martin or Danny Bonaduce.
Also, I know that Basketball isn’t the first sport that comes to mind when you see this guy. But the way that Ephron twirls those basketballs is utterly impressive. And I respectfully mean that as a compliment. Impressive.
I noticed that the 6pack shot of Zac Ephron’s upper body from the trailer was missing in the movie. Maybe the producers were afraid to poison the children with so much suggestion of sex. Sad!
Shake the shackles, little Zac and fly! The sky is the limit.
The movie is coming out April 10th in the UK, April 17th in the States and May 14th in Germany.
Star Magazine Review
Three out of five stars
What’s the story? Thirtysomething Mike O’Donnell (Perry) is having a difficult time – his wife, Scarlett (Mann) has filed for divorce, his kids, Maggie (Trachtenberg) and Alex (Knight) barely speak to him and he has just been overlooked for promotion. Wishing he could turn back the clock, a mysterious janitor makes his wish come true and suddenly he’s 17 again. Teen Mike (Efron) changes his name to Mark and with help from his fantasy-obsessed pal, Ned (Lennon), enrolls at his kids’ school, where he soon learns Alex is being bullied by Maggie’s thuggish boyfriend, Stan (Hunter Parrish). Meanwhile, “Mark” grows close to Scarlett, who, in the absence of her husband, presses ahead with the divorce.
What’s it like? Like Big in reverse, this film deals with someone of a certain age acting completely inappropriately in the wrong body. There are plenty of genuine laughs as young Mike scolds his daughter and Ned tries to woo the school principal – with hilarious results! You’ll wonder why Scarlett takes so long to recognise her childhood sweetheart though – her memory can’t be that bad!
Running time: 102 minutes.
Verdict: A funny – if ridiculous – comedy.
OK! Magazine Review
Three out of five stars
What’s it all about?
On the verge of divorce, downtrodden Mike (Perry) wishes he was 17 again. Magically, he transforms into his younger self (Efron) and decides to go back to school and try to rewrite his life as a basketball star.
But could his own kids be the ones needing help?
High School Musical star Zac does a good job in this light-hearted comedy about the choices we make in life.
And he is in almost every scene, so fans will be in heaven! Thomas Lennon is also very funny as the older Mike’s best friend and nerd extraordinaire.
The film fails to make the best of a good idea and doesn’t make much sense.
Wouldn’t the long-serving basketball coach recognise Mike? Has no one noticed his old photo in the school cabinet?
OK! verdict: A derivative but fun comedy with a star turn from Zac Efron, this manages to entertain despite the many plot holes.
It's hard not to compare this film with predecessors such as Big and Suddenly 30, and that's a hard act to follow. Though 17 Again (an ersatz remake of 1988's 18 Again, starring Charlie Schlatter and George Burns) operates in reverse, the principal of learning from your younger or older self remains very similar.
Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) is failing in life. His wife leaves, his kids resent him, and he's unemployed. Upon wishing that he could relive his glory days back in high school, he turns "seventeen again", becoming Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron), school basketball champion, returning to school to discover where he went wrong.
Despite the shameless moments of exploiting teen superstar Zac Efron's High School Musical fame, the kid does have a certain charisma which is hard to ignore. The support cast unfortunately is where the film is let down. Mike's best friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon), is portrayed as the cliched uber nerd, obviously slotted into the film just to make his friend look cool by contrast. Mike's kids, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight), are also cardboard cut-out, high school stereotypes. Leslie Mann (Knocked Up), however, is funny as Mike's wife, particularly when the whole transformation is discovered and yet not ever actually explained.
Most of the film's comic gags drag on for too long, and there are plot points that go unexplained, such as why Mike's kids don't recognise his younger self at all (people didn't take photos in the eighties?). Though there are mistaken identity moments of mirth, the cheese factor unfortunately lets it down as Mike learns, predictably, that his real dream life was the one that he had all along.
Check out 17 Again, an age-swap comedy co-starring Matthew Perry, only if you have daughters who will kill for a sight of heartthrob Zac Efron. The teenage girls at the press show seemed ready to do just that. In the front row, amid a tide of overflowing popcorn, they bayed and cooed.