Age-swap movies come in various forms: there's the ones where two people (usually parent and child) swap bodies, the ones where someone old becomes young, the ones where someone young becomes old (faster than the normal day-by-day deal), the ones where the person growing older (or younger) is played by the same actor in more (or less) make-up, and so on.
This kind of movie needs all those variations because otherwise they're pretty much all the same: someone thinks things would be better if they were different discovers that things would really only be different. All of which is to the point here because it pretty much every respect bar one 17 Again is a completely typical example of the age-swap genre.
The story's simple: Zac Ephron was a high school basketball star until the night of the big game when his girlfriend's news that she was pregnant threw him off his game, shuffled them off into marriage, and fifteen-odd years later he's turned into matthew Perry, estranged from his two kids and staring down the barrel of a deserved divorce because he won't stop whining about how badly his life turned out.
Then a magical janitor turns him back into Zac Ephron and he decides to use his second childhood to win his family back. As you do in this kind of movie. Ephron is funny and charming, the plot powers along, most of the jokes raise a smile at the very least and the whole thing doesn't take itself too seriously, so this would be yet another competent but forgettable entry into the age-swap genre if not for one thing: Ephron's sex appeal.
Because he hasn't actually gone back in time the only person he can legitimately hit on is his soon to be ex-wife - and he does, which is a bit creepy. But when the film's only other female character starts to fall for him - which in any other film would make sense because hey, he's Zac Ephron - things gets a little too creepy because it's his daughter.
Comedy sort of ensues, but still it's a twist no-one demanded. And when a film has charcaters saying "this is a bit weird", you know that, well, it's all a bit too weird.
If "17 Again," the innocuously charming, utterly predictable comedy will be popular at the box office—and I think it will—it may prove to be a turning point for youth heartthrob Zac Efron, who gives a career-making performance on his way to major Hollywood stardom.
Narratively, the movie is slight and schematic, borrowing elements from such fantasy fables as Capra's "It's a Wonderful Life" with Jimmy Stewart," "Big," starring Tom Hanks, the "Back to the Future" franchise with Michael J. Fox, and Coppola's "Peggy Sue Got Married" with Kathleen Turner, all far superior movies. Nonetheless, though lacking genuine artistic merits, "17 Again" is a feel-good picture that mostly earns its laughs and occasionally even delivers some poignant points about the psyche and soul of the American male, both as youngster and adult.
Like "Back to the Future," the yarn, penned by Jason Filardi, is based on a universal wish we all share: Having a chance to go back to our past and "correct" things we didn't do "right" the first time around. Specifically, in "17 Again," the key question is, What would you do if you got a second shot at life and could go back to high school?
The movie introduces Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron), class of 1989, as a star on the high school basketball court, with a college watching him carefully, and a bright future within reach. Handsome, popular, and the hero of his school team, Mike is about to take the court for the big game, the one that will make or break his career. But at that crucial moment, his girlfriend Scarlet breaks the news that she is pregnant. Needing to make a pivotal decision quickly, Mike gives up the game, and a sure college scholarship, choosing to be with Scarlet. In other words, instead of pursuing a desirable future, he decides to "throw" it away in order to o share his life with his girlfriend Scarlet and their baby.
Cut to 20 years later (the present), and Mike, now played by Matthew Perry, as a bitter, young middle-aged man who feels that his glory days are decidedly behind him. His marriage to Scarlet (played as an adult by Leslie Mann) has fallen apart, and they are engageed in a nasty divorce and custody battles over two teenage kids (both misfits) he barely knows.
Mike's once-bright future has been overshadowed by a dead-end job. In an office scene, gets humiliated in public when, after decades of service, he is passed over for a promotion at work, and the eagerly-awaited job goes to a much younger fella, the new star of the firm.
Any wonder Scarlet, their two children, and everybody else perceive Mike as a loser, one of those men who has been betrayed by the American Dream, having experienced downward (in lieu of upward) mobility. At present, waiting for his divorce to get final, he crashes on the sofa of his high school best friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), a nerd (if there ever was one), who miraculously has become a techno genius-billionaire. But more than anythingelse, Ned functions as a comic foil to Mike's straight man, an eccentric with penchant for outrageous costumes and courtship patterns.
After a chance encounter with a mysterious old man (Brian Doyle Murray), who seems to know exactly how he is feeling, Mike is given a miraculous gift. The next time he looks in the mirror, he discovers he has been magically transformed back to the age of 17, at least outwardly. Inwardly, he is still 37 and remembers exactly who, where, and how old he truly is. Incredulity soon gives way to joy and renewed optimism as Mike realizes he has been given a second shot at the life he thought he threw away.
After a brief prologue, the story proper begins, when Mike is given another chance. In ways that can't be disclosed her, he is miraculously transformed back to the age of 17. The central gimmick is that Mike looks 17 again, but his outlook on sex, women, family, wife and raising children, reflect the outlook of a late 30s men. Thus, in one of the film's charming scenes, he comes across as a retro, or uncool, when he gives his peers in schools a lesson about the merits of abstinence from the sex until marrying the love of your life.
Problem is, the movie takes no risks and wants to play it both ways. In trying to recapture his best years, there is no price to be paid, and it's never convincing when Mike feels that he might lose some of the best and most precious things that have ever happened to him.
In its more serio moments, "17 Again" is a message movie, dealing with life choices and the consequences we go through for having made them in the first place, both the good and the bad ones. Like other men, Mike needs to learn to be more humble, modest, and grateful for what he has accomplished
Casting is a crucial key here, and the picture seems to be tailored to the specific talents of Zac Efron, who up until now either played major roles in ensemble-driven movies (Disney's "High School Musical" 1-3), or secondary parts in musicals like "Hairspray." Matthew Perry also gives a good performance as the lovable, put-upon guy, who initially is just wallowing in self-pity.
Though they have no actual scenes together in the film, and physically look differently, Efron and Perry are somehow convincing that they are playing the same guy in different points in time, a result of the way they read their lines and move around, using similar gestures and mannerisms.
The movie is directed in an unexciting way, often dragging from one schematic scene to another, and it doesn't help that the audience is always ahead of the story and its characters. Thus, the movie is a step down for Burr Steers, who did a much better on in his first picture, the indie "Igby Goes Down."
Though the picture is produced by Adam Shankman, a proficient craftsman responsible for "Hairspray" the musical movie and other entertaining and commercial films, production values are passable but undistinguished, which could be a result of the modest budget.
The text of "17 Again" could be easily turned into a Broadway musical and then recycled into a movie musical, taking the same path that New Line's "Hairspray" had most successfully over the past two decades.
Herald Sun (AUS)
A life lived Zac-wards
The pleasantly predictable 17 Again is a middling body-swap comedy. Nothing more, nothing less.
Within the narrow confines of the genre, most viewers would rank it a notch or two beneath, say, Tom Hanks’ Big. Or the respective Freaky Fridays of Jodie Foster and Lindsay Lohan.
The story begins with Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry), a middle-aged loser lamenting what has become of his life.
Once upon a time, he could have been a basketball star. Except he went and married his high-school sweetheart Scarlett (Leslie Mann) and had a couple of kids.
Sick of Mike’s whining and wondering about what happened way back when, Scarlett files for divorce.
So far, so bleak.
Luckily, for the sake of the young target audience, Mike mopes his way into a magic spell cast by a weird old janitor.
Suddenly, Mike is 17 years of age once more. Better still, he is now played by Zac Efron.
Handed the chance to correct the mistakes of his youth, Mike immediately re-enrols in his old school by posing as the long lost son of his best friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), a nerdy software tycoon.
From this point on, 17 Again goes into auto-pilot mode, working through a series of twists which range from tricky (Mike takes a new shine to his old wife and becomes buddies with his bullied son) to icky (Mike almost becomes his daughter’s new boyfriend).
If there is one thing to be learned from 17 Again, it is that Zac Efron will not look 16 forever.
There is only a limited window of time for Hollywood to sell smooth joyrides on this pretty little dreamboat before he sets sail for choppier adult waters.
The sole job of 17 Again is to give Efron’s core following of tween-age girls plenty of face time with their favourite star.
The sappy song-and-dancery of Zac’s previous hits - the High School Musicals and Hairspray - is out of play here.
There are no other stars on-screen worthy of much attention or affection. The fans are now free to sigh longingly at this boy-ish beauty for as long they like.
And there is no doubting that all happy little Efron-ettes will love what they see in 17 Again.
three out of five stars
Indicators of the dearth of originality are already in evidence this week. The fourth instalment in an action franchise and a remake of a once cherished cult kids classic. So it’s wise to approach 17 Again with plenty of caution.
For one, it is based on a premise that has been re-configured more times than Mickey Rourke’s face. What if you got to be young again? You can reel off a list topped with the classic BIG, Vice Versa, 13 Going on 30, both versions of Freaky Friday, and now this.
Secondly, it is the first star vehicle for that generator of a million audience squeals, and an icon of first crushes for so many backpack wearing, pocket money spending girls, Mr Zac Efron. Talk about a demographically dictated movie.
Now the real twist comes with the knowledge that your reviewer is well outside that target audience, the antithesis in fact, but is more than happy to report that this is thoroughly unoriginal, highly enjoyable entertainment, and there might very well be something to this Efron kid after all.
Mike O’Donnell’s (Matthew Perry) life didn’t turn out as he’d hoped. A high school legend on the basketball court, he gave it all up for his pregnant girlfriend. Twenty years later and on the verge of divorce, he is magically (substitute for ridiculously) given the chance to re-live his youth again in the body of Efron.
The movie succeeds mainly thanks to the universally excellent ensemble. Efron is a comfortable comedic lead performer, here indicating a career beyond lunchbox stickers and T-shirts is achievable. Perry is, well, Matthew Perry, drenched in sarcasm and utterly adequate as a man suffering life’s familiar obstacles. There is no doubt that the real star of 17 Again is Thomas Lennon as Mike’s geeky, Lord of the Rings obsessed friend. Getting all of the big laughs he easily sweeps the movie from under Efron’s dancing feet.
It’s obvious, but has a genuinely human core to its formulaic message, and look past the awful posters and your own preconceptions and it’s surprisingly funny. Recommended.
Daily Mail (UK)
This week's cinema brought two pleasant surprises. The first, and more commercial, is 17 Again, a sweet comedy that will go down a storm with teenage girls. That's partly because teen heart-throb Zac Efron (from High School Musical) is the lead. Director Burr Steers has him strip off to his tanned, toned torso for the opening scene - a sure sign that Mr Steers knows his audience.
However, this heart-warming, feelgood film is proficient, funny and sensible enough to entertain even those for whom 17 is just a distant memory.
It's a body-swap comedy in the tradition of Big and Freaky Friday. Matthew Perry plays Mike O'Donnell, a disgruntled man in his 40s who's had to move into the sci-fi and fantasy memorabilia-stuffed pad of his best friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), a high school geek-turned-software billionaire.
Poor old Mike has just lost his job, can't communicate with his teenage son and daughter (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg) and is about to be divorced by wife Scarlet (Leslie Mann).
That's because he fairly obviously blames her for ruining his life. Mike used to look like Zac Efron and was the star of his school basketball team, but his teenage sweetheart Scarlet (played as the younger incarnation by Allison Miller) stopped him going to college by announcing she was pregnant.
For unexplained reasons, middle-aged Mike is given the chance to relive his days as a 17-year-old, and - with Ned posing as his father - enrols at his old high school.
Mike (now played by Efron) makes friends with his own son and offers fatherly advice to his daughter, whom he is horrified to find is sexually active. Mike is almost as horrified when she makes advances to him, and he finds himself re-attracted to his wife, who is now, embarrassingly, his best friend's mom.
Efron is good at light comedy and very much the 21st-century answer to Michael J. Fox - nice, good-looking in a David Cassidy way and sexually non-threatening. He's funny as he dispenses mature, sensible and distinctly conservative advice. Jason Filardi's screenplay is surprisingly wise at the way it shows the mixture of derision and respect which greets old-young Mike's pronouncements on life, love and sexual abstinence.
Much of this - including hints of incestuous longing - is reminiscent of Back To The Future. That's not to the new movie's advantage. Director Steers is no great stylist, and Filardi's script could have done with more gags.
As high school comedy, this lacks the wit and invention of 10 Things I Hate About You or Clueless; it never strays outside Hollywood formula. Still, it is generous-spirited entertainment and the pace never flags.
When I left the screening, some teenage girls came up to me and demanded I give the film five stars. Sorry, ladies - it isn't worth that much unless you're smitten with Mr Efron. Still, they clearly liked the picture and - though I wasn't expecting to enjoy 17 Again - so did I.
Verdict: Teen comedy that's canny as well as cute