A Warner Bros. release of a New Line Cinema presentation of an Offspring Entertainment production. Produced by Adam Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot. Executive producers, Toby Emmerich, Mark Kaufman, Keith Goldberg, Jason Barrett. Co-producer, Dara Weintraub. Directed by Burr Steers. Screenplay, Jason Filardi.
Mike O'Donnell - Zac Efron
Scarlet - Leslie Mann
Ned Gold - Thomas Lennon
Maggie - Michelle Trachtenberg
Alex - Sterling Knight
Principal Jane Masterson - Melora Hardin
Mike O'Donnell (Adult) - Matthew Perry
Scarlet (Teen) - Allison Miller
Stan - Hunter Parrish
By JUSTIN CHANG
Zac Efron's squeaky-clean tweener-bait profile is unlikely to be threatened by "17 Again," an energetic but earthbound comic fantasy that borrows a few moves, if little inspiration, from "Big" and "It's a Wonderful Life." A defanged sophomore outing for helmer Burr Steers, arriving seven years after his darkly humorous debut, "Igby Goes Down," the tale of a depressed father who gets a second shot at high school glory traffics in the usual cliches about teen misfits, loser dads and high-concept out-of-body experiences. Still, Efron should earn this fanciful fluff a better than passing grade in theaters.
Warner Bros. is unveiling the pic April 9 in Australia and April 10 in the U.K. -- a week ahead of its skedded April 17 opening Stateside but later than planned for the Offspring Entertainment production, which the studio inherited from New Line last year. Efron, now 21, was 19 when the cameras rolled, though the "High School Musical" sensation could easily have passed for a kid many years his junior.
A 1989-set prologue wastes no time satiating the targeted adolescent girls in the audience, establishing 17-year-old Mike O'Donnell (Efron) as a varsity basketball star who looks as good shooting the ball topless as he does dancing with cheerleaders pregame. And just in case that doesn't make him huggable enough, Mike is also smart, sensitive and so devoted to g.f. Scarlet (Allison Miller) that he walks off the court during a fateful game, abandoning his college hoop dreams to be with the girl he loves. (Exactly why his decision is such a matter of future-forfeiting, life-or-death urgency is glossed over by Jason Filardi's script.)
Some 20 years later, Mike has shed his sprightly pubescent charm and unaccountably adopted the facial features and ironic grimaces of Matthew Perry. He's also stuck in a dead-end job in pharmaceutical sales, alienated from his kids and separated from wife Scarlet (now played by Leslie Mann), who's fed up with him for incessantly living in the past. Mike wants nothing more than to return to his youth -- and, after an enigmatic encounter with a janitor who might as well have wings attached, he gets his wish.
Magically restored to his teenage body (Efron's), Mike heads back to high school -- where, for the first time, he gets to know his socially awkward son Alex (Sterling Knight) and sullen daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg). If "17 Again" had proceeded from a straight time-travel premise, it might have actually mined the comedic opportunities and existential implications of the road not taken. But because it's basically a tale of fatherly redemption in teen-comedy drag, the pic leads Mike not into an alternative future but, rather, into a Capra-esque appreciation of the life he's got.
Parent-approved teen sex symbol that he is, Efron is ideally cast as a fresh-faced youth with the conservative attitudes of a middle-aged man. In addition to showing off his basketball prowess, the thesp gets a few amusing monologues to play, such as when he publicly humiliates Alex's jockish tormentor (Hunter Parrish) or gives an unsolicited pro-abstinence lecture in Maggie's classroom. But the story is bogged down by credibility-stretching coincidences (the jockish tormentor is also Maggie's b.f.) and internal inconsistencies, as well as a tendency to reduce both of Mike's children to stick figures.
Going the furthest to counteract all this is the reliably terrific Mann, who persuasively conveys all the emotions -- confusion, near-recognition, unmistakable attraction -- of an emotionally bruised woman coming face-to-face with a younger version of her soon-to-be-ex. Mann and Efron strike up a real chemistry, particularly in an impromptu dancing/wooing scene that would be far creepier and less charming with the gender roles reversed. In a thankless second-banana role, Perry mostly stays offscreen, the better to conceal the fact that he looks and sounds nothing like Efron.
Thomas Lennon's wry, unrestrained turn as Mike's weirdo pal Ned, who keeps a house full of "Star Wars" memorabilia and speaks fluent Tolkienese, proves emblematic of the pic's patchy hit-to-miss laugh ratio. Apart from a few moments that suggest a modicum of actorly improv, Steers puts no special stamp on the unspecial material.
The print screened for review presented the title as "Seventeen Again" (despite the "17 Again" listed in the press and marketing materials) and lacked end credits.
Camera (Deluxe color, widescreen), Tim Suhrstedt; editor, Padraic McKinley; music, Rolfe Kent; music supervisor, Buck Damon; production designer, Garreth Stover; art director, Tom Reta; set designer, Lorrie Campbell; set decorator, Natali Kendrick Pope; costume designer, Pamela Withers Chilton; sound (SDDS/Dolby Digital/DTS), Steve Cantamessa; supervising sound editors, Perry Robertson, Hugh Waddell; supervising sound designer, Scott Sanders; re-recording mixers, John Ross, Michael Keller; visual effects supervisor, Kelly Bumbarger; visual effects, Riot; additional visual effects, Community of Science and Arts Visual Effects, CIS Hollywood; stunt coordinator, Webster P. Whinery; assistant director, Lisa C. Satriano; casting, Lisa Beach, Sarah Katzman. Reviewed at Warner Bros. Studios, Burbank, April 8, 2009. MPAA Rating: PG-13. Running time: 98 MIN.
The Hollywood Reporter (Kirk Honeycutt)
Bottom Line: Despite occasional misfires, this Zac Efron comedy earns its laughs and delivers its life lessons.
"17 Again" has a pretty original take on the "do-over" comedy -- you know, where someone, invariably a male, gets to go back in his life to do-over a key moment or event that continues to bug him. The twist here is that Mike O'Donnell doesn't really go back in time: He is simply 17 again, the point at which, he figures, his life went south. So he winds up in high school with his own daughter and son, and his estranged wife can't understand her weird feelings for this guy who reminds her so much of her ex when he was young.
This film, written by Jason Filardi ("Bringing Down the House") and directed by Burr Steers ("Igby Goes Down"), works better than you might imagine at times but stumbles awkwardly other times. The unevenness in the writing is matched by directorial overkill in certain comic sequences.
Warner Bros. has achieved high awareness for this Zac Efron teen comedy from New Line so that the film could open at No. 1. Boxoffice has mid-range potential.
The film begins when Mike (Efron) really is 17, back in 1989, when he is a high school basketball star with a bright future and hopes for a scholarship. Just before the game where a college scout has shown up, his girlfriend Scarlet tells him she's pregnant. So he throws away everything to marry Scarlet.
Why the filmmakers believe college basketball and parenthood are mutually exclusive is unclear -- are they aware how many student-athletes have families? -- but anyway, it's 20 years later and Mike, played by Matthew Perry, is a walking train wreck. His kids hate him, his wife (Leslie Mann) is divorcing him and his job disappears. Only his best friend, former school nerd-turned-software tycoon Ned (Thomas Lennon), can tolerate his company.
Along comes, as happens in do-over movies, a mystical figure, invariably in a white beard, who grants the downfallen hero his request -- in this instance, to be 17 again. The nice twist to Mike becoming a "fake teen" is that this situation doesn't so much give him a chance to re-shape his life as to help out his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) and son (Sterling Knight). He can dispense advice and guidance from the perspective of an adult but in the guise of a schoolmate.
Sequences involving a school bully -- who, the father discovers, is terrorizing his son but dating his daughter! -- and his wife, now 20 years his senior, click pretty well. But the film gets into tonal problems when Steers and Filardi feel the need for the kind of exaggeration believed necessary for teen comedies. Lennon's extreme geek would be funny, quite funny in fact, in the right film but here his performance jars. There is also too much sentimentality thrown in as if the filmmakers don't trust their young audience to get the message.
Efron does a fine job in letting the older man seep through his boyish exterior. As the siblings, Knight and Trachtenberg each have moments when they shine, especially when the daughter starts to think her father is hot, not realizing, of course, that he is her father. Mann, as always, is very funny and gets to put an edge of vulnerability into her performance.
Production values are so-so at best with an unusually loud music soundtrack obliterating much of the dialogue. In this high school, no one ever goes to class, the kids are too old and Efron is too short for a basketball star but otherwise,"17 Again" is the epitome of realism.
Opens: April 17 (Warner Bros.)
Production: New line Cinema presents an Offspring Entertainment production
Cast: Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight, Melora Harin, Matthew Perry
Director: Burr Steers
Screenwriter: Jason Filardi
Producers: Adam Shankman, Jennifer Gibgot
Executive producers: Toby Emmerich, Mark Kaufman, Keith Goldberg, Jason Barrett
Director of photography: Tim Suhrstedt
Production designer: Garreth Stover
Music: Rolfe Kent
Costume designer: Pamela Withers Chilton
Editor: Padraic McKinley
Rated PG-13, 100 minutes