Dreaming about reliving your youth is a common fantasy that comes to life in “17 Again,” a middling romantic comedy about an unhappy, middle-aged dad magically transported back to the high school where he was once a basketball star with a pregnant girlfriend.
Here’s the catch: Although Mike O’Donnell looks like he did when he was 17, he has the mind and experience of someone 20 years older. While this makes him wiser than his contemporaries, it also creates problems in school, such as seeing his daughter date an obnoxious jock and his son get picked on by bullies. Not to mention his undiminished desire for his estranged wife, which leads to some extremely awkward situations.
Teen idol Zac Efron, star of the “High School Musical” series, plays the young O’Donnell with endearing spunk while Matthew Perry handles the adult version with appropriate ennui. Leslie Mann (“Knocked Up”) portrays his sexy wife and Thomas Lennon gets big laughs as a nerdy high-school friend who grows up to be a nerdy tech billionaire.
Burr Steers, whose only previous feature was the dysfunctional-family comedy “Igby Goes Down,” does a competent directing job but the story is too shopworn and predictable to hold your interest for very long.
“17 Again,” from Warner Bros., opens tomorrow across the U.S. Rating: **
Charm of stars elevates '17 Again'
Like fellow Disney-launched star Miley Cyrus, Zac Efron comes with a built-in audience. Unlike Cyrus, Efron shows the potential to shine as he moves away from his tween roots.
While "17 Again," Efron's latest effort, is a bit uneven, his talent is consistent, whether showing nice understated comic timing or even a little dramatic muscle.
Efron plays the 17-year-old version of Matthew Perry's almost-40-something sad sack. When Efron/Perry was 17 the first time, he gave up a promising shot at a basketball career to marry his pregnant high school sweetheart.
Nearly 20 years later, he resents losing the life he thought he would have. Estranged from his wife and kids, Perry wishes he could do it all over again, and he magically transforms into Efron. He soon finds he's a better father/husband as a boy than he had been as a man.
There's very little new ground in "17 Again." We've seen versions of the eye-opening age-regression in "Vice Versa," "Like Father Like Son" and two "Freaky Fridays." There's even a little "It's a Wonderful Life" thrown in.
But the latest model has enough fresh charm to make up for the lack of originality.
There are a lot of great supporting performances, too - particularly Leslie Mann as Perry's estranged wife and Sterling Knight as his son. Mann's subtly quirky humor goes a long way toward muffling the ewww factor when she finds herself attracted to the 17-year-old Efron. More cringe-worthy are the romantic advances that Michelle Trachtenberg makes toward the 17-year-old version of her dad.
Some of "17 Again's" funnier moments have nothing to do with the age-warp and feel kind of pasted on. A subplot involving Perry/Efron's best pal (played by Thomas Lennon) wooing the current high school principal (Melora Hardin) in the most painful way imaginable has a distracting, out-of-left-field quality. It's undeniably funny, but I still kept wishing they'd just get back to the plot and give Lennon and Hardin their own movie.
three out of five stars
The teen body is potentially subversive in teen "switcheroo" films like 17 Again, not referring merely to Zac Efron's wiry, over-tanned torso, but rather the cosmically lawless force of physicality that forms the central emotional argument of the film. The genre, perhaps best exemplified by 2003's Freaky Friday, which sees an adult unexpectedly transported into a younger form (if not themselves in their adolescent years, an offspring or close relative). At certain points, Efron's performance is manipulated to meet halfway with the undeniable baggage of the actor's fame, a pressure point that informs much of the audience's experience of the film.
Not like I'm trying to overthink these matters.
It's interesting, however, that Efron's first film since the closing of his phenomenally successful High School Musical stint plays so eloquently on his teen idol persona. 17 Again opens with Efron as Mike, a topless and sweaty high school basketball star, shooting hoops in solitude before the basketball game that should ultimately send him towards an Ivy League scholarship. Instead, he abandons his potential in pursuit of a happy life with his class sweetheart Scarlett, presumably pregnant with his child. Years pass, and Mike is jaded and abandoned in his late 30s, played by Matthew Perry in a role far less jubilant in his misery than his Friends character Chandler Bing. Scarlett (Leslie Mann) has kicked him out, leaving him housed with geeky Internet millionaire pal Ned (Thomas Lennon).
A brief visit to his former high school where his troubled son and daughter now attend leads to a mysterious encounter with the ghostly janitor. His suspicions lead him to wake the next morning under a bridge, once again his hunky teen self. At first, after proving his absurd case to Ned, Mike thinks its a chance to try life all over again. But his return to high school is awkward and unsatisfying, as he attends classes with his own kids. His ability to reach out to them with his adult wisdom but golden boy demeanour suggests instead that his purpose is to mend the open wounds of his broken-hearted family, something he is only capable of in the body of a contemporary icon.
17 Again takes only so much advantage of the fascinating element I've proposed, but hits enough clever notes to keep its predictability at bay. In my favourite scene, a sex ed teacher (believe it or not, Margaret Cho) passes a box of condoms throughout the class, which Mike politely refuses. He proceeds into an argument for abstinence from the perspective of a proud father which promptly melts the hearts of his hormonal female classmates. Efron woos more than the glossy pink wallets of fanatic teen girls (and maybe a few boys)—the density of his body langauage and vocal performance in the scene methodically slow down the speediness of teen culture to beg a second look at itself. He's no James Dean, but I'll go as far as George Hamilton in Where the Boys Are.
Every generation demands its teenager/adult body-swap story, whether it involves Tom Hanks dancing on a giant keyboard in Big, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan (or, for the old folks, Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster) switching bodies in Freaky Friday, or Jennifer Garner wobbling uncertainly in her high heels through the Manhattan streets in 13 Going on 30.
Still, though there's nothing revolutionary about 17 Again, the movie is undeniably enjoyable. Funny and lively, with a healthy dollop of sentimentality, it reassures us that all is not lost, except maybe our six-pack abs, as we descend into schlubby, dissatisfied middle age.
In 1989, Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron) is a high-school basketball star with a bright future until he discovers that his girlfriend is pregnant. You know the rest of the story: They marry young, and reality beats down youthful vigor, turning fresh-faced Zac into an older, sour, embittered Mike (Matthew Perry, who, it must be noted, does not in any way seem like a former high-school athlete).
Mike's wife (Leslie Mann) has booted him out from their house; she's understandably sick of being blamed for his failures. Mike's teenage children (Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight) seem oblivious to his influence. Mike's stuck in a nowhere job, living with his Geek-to-the-Max best friend (Thomas Lennon, whose role is more annoying than amusing). But when a magical janitor grants Mike his wish to be young again, he gets a chance to make a difference in everybody's lives.
17 Again rests largely on Efron's shoulders, and the actor proves convincingly that his screaming High School Musical fans are not overboard in their admiration. He dances a bit, shoots some hoops and even throws out a very Perry grimace or two (if only he could have channeled a little more of Perry's trademark wisecracking).
Mike befriends his son and tries to imbue him with a little confidence, and deliberately sabotages his daughter's relationship with a punk, in one scene delivering a heartfelt plea for abstinence in sex-ed class that has the girls swooning and the boys grumbling. 17 Again is not afraid to engage in some less-than-strictly-wholesome fun: Young Mike still loves Scarlett, and she's attracted to the boy who resembles her husband back in the day while simultaneously being horrified by the cougary aspects of her feelings. And eventually Mike's daughter realizes the guy trying to lure her from the bad boy is, you know, really cute, which leads to a few extremely awkward moments.
There's never any doubt what the film's lesson will be -- appreciate the good things you have -- but 17 Again is so much fun it makes the sentiment worth repeating.
It would be easy enough to lump Zac Efron into the here-today-gone-tomorrow ranks of Disney pre-teen idols (and he may have to cameo in High School Musical sequels until he’s Ian Ziering’s age), but it wouldn’t be right. Look past the soft eyes and Teen Beat-foldout coiffure (though really, why would you?) and Efron is a serious talent, equally agile in dance and slapstick while bringing a theatrical zip to every scene. It’s uncertain yet whether he can dial it down for a genre other than musicals or comedy, but he’s right there to pick up the daffy body-swapping farce 17 Again whenever it goes astray. And for a seemingly surefire mash-up of commercial juggernauts like Big and Back To The Future, the film needs a lot of rescuing.
Following the tradition of bad late-’80s comedies like Vice Versa, Like Father Like Son, and, ahem, 18 Again!—and their slightly improved ’00 counterparts Freaky Friday and 13 Going On 30—17 Again uses Hollywood magic to put an old soul in a younger body. As the film opens, Efron is a star high-school basketball player who leaves the game behind when he finds out his girlfriend is pregnant and commits to her on the spot. Twenty years later, this dynamic young man has morphed into a defeated sad-sack (Matthew Perry) who has squandered his marriage to wife Leslie Mann and alienated himself from his two teenage children. When a janitorial “spirit guide” gives him a chance to revisit his youth and realize the dreams he left behind in high school, Efron instead uses the opportunity to get his family back on track.
With plenty of help from a fine supporting cast, including Thomas Lennon as his obscenely wealthy super-nerd chum and Melora Hardin as the school principal, Efron deftly handles the fish-out-of-water hijinks and slips through more icky May-September romantic entanglements than an average season of Friday Night Lights. Director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) doesn’t always have a firm handle on what is and isn’t appropriate; the film makes a few sharp detours into misogyny, and the level of smuttiness is surprisingly high, which may be a function of Efron wanting to grow away from his core audience too fast. If he keeps sailing through star vehicles like this one, he should have no trouble growing up with them.
Zac Efron was hard enough to take back when he was just a cute little muffin. Remember those days? When Disney broadcast the original High School Musical and schoolgirls everywhere first caught sight of those big baby blues twinkling behind the bangs?
In short order he became cute and popular. Then he became cute, popular and rich. When Hairspray came out, we faced the fact that he might actually be cute, popular, rich and a smidge or two talented. But now! Now he’s become intolerable! Now, after seeing 17 Again, a shockingly pretty-good comedy about a sad-sack thirtysomething who wishes himself back to his teen years, I’m forced to make this humiliating confession: Not only is Zac Efron cute, popular, rich and a smidge or two talented, he actually made me sniffle.
It happened when he declared undying love near the end, and believe me, I’m embarrassed to admit it. Go ahead and call me a sap and a boob, because I am, in fact, a sap and a boob. But some credit must go to the mighty mighty Efron, because 17 Again is sweeter and more disarming than any movie with such a been-there premise has any right to be, and it’s not because its director (Burr Steers) has a bent for transgressive family sagas (Big Love, Weeds, Igby Goes Down).
If anything, this represents the very opposite of transgression. A more heartfelt embrace of love, duty and age-morphing high-concept wackiness hasn’t been seen since — well, since 13 Going on 30, about an adolescent gal zapped to adulthood. Or Freaky Friday, that mom-teen body-swapping fable. Or Big, the classic about a boy who insta-grows into Tom Hanks, a muffin of yore.
This time, the switcheroo occurs when the middle-aged Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry) whines one time too many about the lost glories of his youth and, thanks to a mystical janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray), inexplicably metamorphoses in a younger, studlier version of himself.
Posing as the bastard son of his geeky best friend (Thomas Lennon, who gets to act out a sequence in subtitled Elvish), Mike enrolls in his old high school, tries out for his old basketball team and proceeds to mother-hen his bullied son (Sterling Knight) and misguided daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) while flirting wildly with his soon-to-be ex-wife (Leslie Mann).
To enjoy 17 Again, you have to get past the fact that: a) Zac Efron looks nothing like a young Matthew Perry; and b) you’ve seen most of this stuff before, especially if you remember Young Again, a 1986 TV chestnut in which Robert Urich mutates into Keanu Reeves. You’ll also have to get past the bit where young Mike comes this-skeevy-close to being seduced by his own daughter.
But the cast hit their marks with fine comic timing, and there’s undeniable incongruous fun in hearing Efron lecture his daughter or preach the virtues of abstinence. I found him a sympathetic, and strangely believable, middle-aged dad. And that’s before I sniffled.
Arizona Daily Star
Turns out there's more to Zac Efron than the grinning, vacant marionette from the "High School Musical" series.
In "17 Again," Efron shows he can carry a film on his own, with minimal help from flashy dance numbers. He's got personality and screen presence, and enough range to half convince you his character is a slimmer, younger version of Matthew Perry.
Efron plays Mike, a former teen basketball star and big man on campus who gives up his career to marry his pregnant girlfriend, Scarlett. Cut to 20 years later and Mike, now played by Perry, is miserable. And not only because he looks like Matthew Perry. He resents Scarlett (Leslie Mann), who is divorcing him, as well as his two distant teen children.
As luck has it, a magical, Santa Claus-lookalike janitor happens upon Mike and grants him his wish to be instantly Benjamin Buttoned back to youth.
Posing as the son of his geeky, best friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon), Mike enrolls at his old high school, befriends his bullied son, Alex (Sterling Knight) and keeps a close eye on his wild daughter, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg).
When he's not at school doing undercover parenting, Mike hangs out at home trying to talk his former self up to Scarlett while also creepily seducing her. Even yuckier are the scenes in which Maggie starts putting the moves on Mike, who doesn't fend off her advances quite as firmly as one would hope.
All the awkward generation-skipping makes for plenty of uneasy laughs, and even though it feels as though you've seen this type of thing a thousand times before, "17 Again" changes things up just enough to seem fresh.
Think of it as "Big" in reverse, with a touch of "Back to the Future" and a dash of "Freaky Friday."
Director Burr Steers, who was last heard from in the film world in 2002 with his subversive black comedy "Igby Goes Down," gives the film an anything-goes, John Hughes-style feel while keeping things inoffensive enough for tweens. Even the one risqué scene, in which a sex-ed teacher hands out condoms to the class, Mike takes a stand for abstinence that convinces all the girls to follow suit. Phony? Sure. But in the moment it somehow works.
In an amusing sidebar to the main story, Ned — a self-made software millionaire who is socially inept — courts the school principal, Ms. Masterson (Melora Hardin, who played Jan on "The Office").
Masterson is oblivious to Ned's overtures but he eventually wears her down, convincing her to fly her own freak flag.
Sure, Hardin does the same thing she did in "The Office," but she handles the transformation from harsh, closed-off professional to a love-struck softy so well, it's tough to turn up your nose.
Some contrived bits work, but others are groan-inducing, including a movie-opening dance number in which Mike joins in with a cheerleading routine. It's a cloying token for squealing "High School Musical" fanatics that made me want to hate "17 Again" before it really got started.
Steers lets Efron go all Troy Bolton again when he confronts a school bully in the cafeteria by taunting him with Harlem Globetrotters-like basketball juggling. In the movie, the bully is awed and backs down. In real life, trying that will get you punched in the face.
Yet despite itself, "17 Again" won me over by playing like a lost 1980s high school comedy that oozes enough charm and personality to smooth out the rough spots. Even the obnoxious Perry can't spoil things because he's barely in the movie.
This is Efron's show, and there's enough music in his performance to justify an encore.
Movies where people transform overnight from children into adults, or vice versa, have been around for some time now. "Big," "Peggy Sue Got Married" and "13 Going On 30" are just a few titles that leap to mind. The latest film adopting this premise is called "17 Again."
Matthew Perry plays Mike O'Connell, a man who's very unhappy with the way his life has turned out. Back in high school, Mike had a promising future as a basketball star, but gave it all up to marry his pregnant girlfriend. Now his marriage is headed for divorce court, his two kids don't respect him and he's been passed over for a well earned promotion at work.
So one day, a magical janitor transforms Mike back into a 17-year-old.
Young Mike, now played by Zac Efron, starts attending classes and hides his true identity from everyone, except his best friend, Ned. Mike also gets a chance to spy on his kids, and learns a thing or two about them.
He tries to save his daughter, played by Michelle Trachtenberg, from dating the high school bully.
Mike also keeps an eye on his soon-to-be-ex-wife, played by Leslie Mann, who he still carries a torch for.
If the movie's premise was handled properly, it could have been fun. But the writer and director have no idea how to make audiences laugh or keep them entertained. They execute the story in a bland, connect-the-dots sort of way as they liberally steal gags and scenes from dozens of other films. The result is a predictable, unfunny film.
Zac Efron is appealing and so is Matthew Perry for the brief time he's on the screen. But they are defeated by the lame material. Making matters worse, a silly stalker subplot, involving the high school principal and Mike's geeky best friend Ned, is simply embarrassing.
The audience will easily figure out everything that's going to happen on screen way before it actually does, and that's the only time travel trick that does work here.
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The energetic but uninspired fantasy-comedy, 17 Again, is a what-if movie, all right.
As in, what if production values were higher? As in, what if somebody on set noticed that everything was being exaggerated or overdone? As in, what if a there was at least a moment of believability?
17 Again is a star vehicle for emerging icon Zac Efron, a truly talented young actor, who stars as the teenage version of an unfulfilled thirtysomething. But he soars so high above the mediocre material, he's somewhere off in his own movie.
What could be more appropriate than a basketball star getting a second shot...at life? That's what happens here as Matthew Perry plays a depressed 37-year-old, unhappily married suburban dad who wishes he could relive his life and return to the good old days, his high school years, when he was the star of the basketball team and his future seemed both assured and limitless.
That's when he made a seemingly noble decision that changed the direction of his life and led him to the disappointing place that he feels trapped in. Now he is on the verge of divorce from Leslie Mann, can't communicate with his teenaged kids (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight), and has lost his job. Other than that, things are going great. So he moves in with a high school buddy (Thomas Lennon) who was a nerd before he became a billionaire.
Then, magically, he is given the chance to become the 17-year-old he once was. At least, that's who he is on the outside. Inside, he's the same 37 years of experiences, memories, and perceptions. All of which he brings with him when he enrolls in the very high school that his son and daughter attend.
So, yes, Zac Efron finds himself in High School Non-Musical. And we get to watch him gain a new appreciation for where he ended up, while his kids struggle with their teenage angst and his buddy, impersonating his father, gets to romance the high school principal (Melora Hardin).
The movies have given us our share of age-switch and body-swap larks down through the years. Consider Big, 13 Going on 30, Back to the Future, Peggy Sue Got Married, Freaky Friday, Like Father Like Son, and 18 Again!, just to name a few. 17 Again begs, borrows, steals and stitches together moments and wrinkles from from all of them, as well as It's a Wonderful Life.
Director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), working from Jason Filardi's derivative and shoddy screenplay (do the math: how is his oldest child a high schooler?), never quite carves out his own idiosyncratic take on the material, and the send-the-audience-home-happy ending doesn't come close to feeling earned. This combo of teen flick and life-lesson fantasy is far too often just the former.
Admittedly, no one expects verisimilitude from the overall story in the fantasy realm. But when scene after scene exhibits three-dollar-bill phoniness -- which is the case here -- any emotional payoff becomes impossible.
A smidgen of subtlety somewhere along the line would certainly have helped. But, then, when the only concern is showing off Efron's undeniable skills and heartthrob assets, thus creating what seems like an audition reel for future gigs, why bother attempting any sort of nuance?
Efron, who also shone in Hairspray and High School Musical 3, is terrific again, exhibiting not only easygoing charm and charismatic star quality, but sufficient dramatic chops and unforced comic timing. But the movie around him limps to the finish line.
17 Again is a make-do do-over romp that could use a do-over itself.
In Utah This Week
"17 Again" is the story of Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron when young, Matthew Perry when older) who sees his dream of becoming a college basketball star evaporate when his high school girlfriend drops a bombshell on him just as he takes the court in the most important game of his life. Twenty years later, Mike is full of a bitter regret that alienates him from his children and has his wife asking for a divorce. But when Mike suddenly finds himself in his 17-year-old form, he embraces the opportunity to go back to high school to see if the life he left behind in 1989 might be found in 2009.
Clearly this isn't anything that hasn't been done before. From the very first scene there's no question that "17 Again" is banking on the heartthrob appeal of Efron. While this might sweet-talk the ladies, it had me rolling my eyes and expecting the worst.
Strangely enough, 30 minutes later I had to admit that I was enjoying the film. Efron certainly has some charm and the same must be said for "17 Again." It is a bit derivative and of course there is a nicely wrapped, packaged ending, but for what it is, which is light-hearted entertainment, it's rather good.
Geeky types will have a love/hate relationship with Mike's BFF Ned (Thomas Lennon) who is more than a bit annoying but has a lovely collection of movie props and a bed for the ages (although it might not be as cool as the Tauntaun sleeping bag).
Spirituality and Practice.com
Mike O'Donnell (Zac Effron) has everything going his way in 1989 when he is the star on the basketball team, is the most popular guy in high school, and has a pretty girlfriend named Scarlet (Allison Miller). He champions the cause of Ned, a nerd who is ridiculed by other players on the basketball team. On the biggest day of his life, Mike is called upon to impress a college scout who is in the stands watching him play. But news from Scarlet that she is pregnant challenges him to make a life-altering decision: marriage to her or going his own way to college and success as a basketball star. He chooses Scarlet.
Twenty years later, and Mike (Matthew Perry) rues his choice. He is separated from Scarlet (Leslie Mann); he's been passed over for a promotion at work; and he feels totally disconnected from his two children, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight). He laments these failures and setbacks to Ned (Thomas Lennon), his high school buddy now turned techno-billionaire. But thanks to the intervention of a white-bearded janitor, Mike has a chance to replay his life. He is miraculously transformed into his 17 year-old self again.
Mike enrolls in high school and finds himself as a peer to his two children. He is shocked to find out that his son is the prey of a bully who is dating Maggie. He also has a hard time watching the changes in the life of his adult wife Scarlet, who is dating again and has become a gifted landscape designer.
Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) directs this witty comedy that contains elements of Big and other dramas of transformation. The best thing about the screenplay by Jason Filardi is that Mike's chance to re-write the script of his life takes a direction he does not expect: playing the role of a nurturing father looking out for his kids. In one of the most memorable scenes in 17 Again, he gives three reasons why the scumbag who has humiliated Alex is a bully. He stands by his son in another way by training him to go out for the basketball team and to muster the courage to ask the girl of his dreams to go out with him. Mike also tries to counsel his rebellious daughter Maggie. Scarlet is mystified by this young man but she doesn't shut him out. That enables him to express his love for her in ways that touch her heart.
A subplot revolves around Ned's zany romantic pursuit of Jane Masterson (Melora Hardin), the principal of Mike's high school who has a surprise in store for him that is better than anything he could ever dream about. In 17 Again, love's tricky and unpredictable, a force that cannot be explained or controlled.
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Forget all about the age-reversing hocus-pocus that's going on during "17 Again." The real fantasy at play in this picture is the concept that Zac Efron is supposed to be the younger version of Matthew Perry. Sure. If you can hurdle that whopper, "17 Again" is a generously spirited comedy that's more victorious as a debutant ball for Efron's big screen career than a true gut-buster. The picture charms easily and makes a decent pass at a heart. Considering the director and the iffy premise, I think the idea of "17 Again" being anything other than migraine-inducing is worth a few minutes of applause and smiley reflection.
Frustrated with the failure of his life and his marriage to high school sweetheart Scarlett (Leslie Mann), Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry, in a brief cameo) makes an audible wish to be young again, desperate for a chance to reboot his life. The wish is magically granted by a spirit guide (a Santa-like Brian Doyle-Murray), turning Mike back into a teenager (Zac Efron). Seeking the help of geeky friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), Mike elects to enroll in the same high school as his children (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg) to keep an eye on his family.
Looking to instill his son with confidence and keep his daughter away from a lothario, Mike starts to insinuate himself back into his own house, eventually hoping to reconnect with Scarlett; however, his efforts strike the family as particularly strange, leaving Mike unable to comprehend why his wish was granted in the first place if he was destined to fail all over again.
While the temptation is there to label the feature as a body switching comedy along the likes of a backwards "Big," "17 Again" isn't aiming for a whimsical handle to the laughs. Under the direction of Burr Steers (the odious "Igby Goes Down"), "17 Again" is more at home within a sitcom arena, featuring a broad plot of cockeyed redemption to underscore the flashy comedic fireworks display. Steers mutes all his tendencies to smother the actors in stillborn affectations and lets the cast roll with the punches, permitting a harmless screenplay to be executed safely and often winningly. In the seven years it took Steers to follow-up "Igby," he's learned to trust his ensemble, allowing for generous spurts of glee to escape what is honestly an eye-rolling concept.
The plot concentrates on Mike's foggy, befuddled path to salvation, but the film appears more infatuated with Efron and his performance elasticity. As bright-eyed and bushy-tailed as Efron was in the "High School Musical" pictures, his work in "17 Again" reveals a dazzling comedic presence and an overall ability to command a scene. Backed wonderfully by Mann, Lennon, and Melora Hardin (here stealing scenes as Mike's principal and Ned's nerdly object of affection), the film gives Efron a wide berth to just do his thing. And that thing seems to be the capacity to make a dusty screenplay shine with his gusto and silly portrayal of man-boy bewilderment, while throwing a few well-timed reactions around to beef up the laughs.
Efron keeps the film upbeat and eager to please, but it's comforting to see "17 Again" not entirely turn its back on the inherent creepiness of a teen father spying on his teen kids. While dealing with bullies, basketball tryouts, and abundant caloric intake, Mike also has to confront burgeoning affection from his own daughter, a thorny consequence of his renewed attention to their romantic activites. Steers keeps the subplot nicely distanced and humorous, but the very appearance of such a twist demonstrates that "17 Again" has a delightful sense of mischief to share. Eventually the film devolves into third-act sniffles to ease the premise back onto solid ground, but a generous helping of actorly vitality and a dash of troublemaking elevates the picture away from its skim milk origin.
There are those who say that the Hollywood machine (A) does nothing but grind out the same repetitive product, and (B) is as dumb as a box of screwdrivers. Well... they're half right. While 17 Again has been made at least 17 times before—whether they called it Big, 13 Going on 30, or Freaky Friday—at least one can rest easy in the knowledge that if Hollywood produces the same movie enough times, they'll eventually get it right. Not that they got it right with 17 Again... but at least they're in the ballpark.
Metrosexual teen hunk Zac Efron (from High School Musical, and your teen daughter's wet dreams) stars as the younger version of saggy loser Matthew Perry (from Friends, and no one's wet dreams). After Perry realizes he threw his life away at age 17 to father a kid with his high school sweetie, he's magically transformed into a teenage version of himself (Efron) via a really crappy CG whirlpool. At this point, Efron takes over the movie—setting out to put his older self's life back on track. (Don't get it? Re-watch Back to the Future.)
Once you begrudgingly accept that you've already seen this flick a billion times, you'll discover... well... okay, it's not terrible. And that's largely thanks to the casting director, who had the smarts to surround Efron with a funny, likeable cast. Especially impressive is Reno 911!'s Thomas Lennon, who plays Efron's grown-up, geeky best pal who yanks laughs out of every single scene.
And even Zac Efron—who, I'm sorry, really reminds me of Clay Aiken—does a passable job at mimicking Matthew Perry's idiosyncrasies, and ends up pulling off a fairly charming character... that is, when he's not reminding you of Clay Aiken. In addition, he spends most of the first scene of the movie with his shirt off—so as far as your teen daughter is concerned, that'll be worth the price of admission alone. And I have to admit: Clay Aiken or no, that kid's built like a brick shithouse! (See? What did I tell you? Hollywood is getting smarter.)
Sure, I would want to be 17 again if I meant I could be 17 and look like Zac Efron. Something tells me I would have a more exciting high school experience than I had when I was 17 and looked more like Duckie.
Matthew Perry stars as Mike – a guy whose world is falling apart. Back in high school, he seemed destined for greatness (because he looked like Zac Efron), but life stepped in the way, he made a huge decision and has been regretting it ever since. Magically, a demented janitor at his old high school shows up and turns Mike back into his 17-year old self (Efron). Now, Mike has a chance to right what went wrong, and start a whole new life, but learns more about his current path, family and estranged wife (Leslie Mann) along the way.
Can Mike turn things around?
What does he have to do to become 37 again?
You saw this movie when it was called Big. You saw this movie when it was called 13 Going On 30. Yet, 17 Again is fun, entertaining and even has a small brush with poignancy.
Rather than trying to be a dumbed down, overly teen oriented bad joke-a-thon, writer Jason Filardi and director Burr Steers make 17 Again into a deeper story about life, family, regret, and what’s important. It’s not going to blow your mind or change your world, but 17 Again has a heart, a brain and a funny bone.
Even better, some of the best comedy isn’t Efron trying to fit into the strange world of teenagers and making a fool of himself, but the moments when the young guy acts and sounds like a father with conviction. Efron gives the character the right amount of maturity and concern to make the speeches, fatherly advice and scoldings equally funny and sweet.
17 Again gets a bit drawn out and predictable at the end, but it’s much better than you might imagine.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch
In Hollywood, everything old is new again. The target audience for "17 Again" is too young to remember body-switch comedies like "Big," and if their parents never showed them "Back to the Future," 'tween moviegoers might think that a time traveler getting propositioned by a blood relative is risqué.
But in a market where the real risky business is tampering with a successful formula, this '80s-style refreshment goes down as easily as Classic Coke.
As Zac Efron's transition from "High School Musical," this lightweight flick is a baby step. In the opening scene, set in 1989, Mike O'Donnell (Efron) is shirtless and shooting baskets before a big game. Then he suits up and performs a hip-hop dance number with the cheerleaders. But even with a college recruiter in the stands, Mike can't get his head in the game, because something seems to be wrong with his girlfriend, Scarlett. When she whispers from the sidelines that she's pregnant, Mike impulsively leaves the game — and the path to success.
Twenty years later, Mike (now played by Matthew Perry) is in a dead-end job, getting divorced by Scarlett (Leslie Mann) and bunking with his fanboy best friend Ned (over-the-top Thomas Lennon).
When Mike revisits his old high school to reminisce, a mysterious janitor (Brian Doyle Murray) overhears his wish that he could do it all over again and grants Mike a do-over cribbed from "It's a Wonderful Life."
Suddenly, Mike is back in his young body, and after Ned is done freaking out he deduces that Mike is on a mystic quest that requires him to re-enroll in high school. So Mike goes undercover as Ned's long-lost son, briefly wearing K-Fed apparel before rediscovering his inner hunk.
The newcomer's charisma and wisdom do wonders for Mike's sexually curious teen daughter (Michelle Trachtenburg) and his self-conscious teen son (Sterling Knight), while Scarlett is flattered that this uncanny look-alike for her missing husband finds her interesting.
The movie manages a few good jokes about inappropriate flirtations, but it never addresses the bigger questions of why the marriage went wrong or what Mike is supposed to be doing about it.
Coming from the mouth of a young actor with limited emotional range, his life advice to the other characters rings hollow. Efron is better suited for the comedic dreamboat scenes, yet behind the dazzling smile he seems to be wishing that he never has to do a movie like "17 Again" again.
Old people wish they were young again; young people can't wait to grow up. It's one of life's indelible truths and the source of cinematic fantasies ranging from "Big" to "Freaky Friday."
And since those movies made money, here's "17 Again." This time it's the old person getting younger, even though the movie is obviously aimed at young people since it stars Zac Efron of "High School Musical" fame.
Efron plays Mike O'Donnell, at 17. We first meet him in 1989 as he's about to win a big basketball scholarship. But he finds out his girlfriend Scarlett is pregnant, so he walks away from his dreams and into a life of responsibilities.
Flash forward and we meet Mike (Matthew Perry) at age 37. He and Scarlett (Leslie Mann) are getting a divorce, his troubled kids (Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight) won't even talk to him and he's living with his nerdy friend Ned (Thomas Lennon).
And then suddenly he turns 17. There's a janitor involved, but it doesn't matter; it's magic and Mike is 17.
Cue the sudden-shock jokes. Cue the getting to know his own family jokes. Cue the back to high school and basketball and girlfriend jokes.
Hey, but they're OK jokes. A whiff of incest, a couple of cougar mentions, all the standard stuff is here because it's proven formula.
Efron effortlessly carries the movie, and yes, it's lightweight stuff, but the kid has real charm.
Every generation has its "Big." and this isn't it, or at least let's hope not. It lacks the texture, the romance, the actual mortal pain of that film.
But it's a minor league knockoff starring a talented kid that makes for harmless entertainment. It could be better, it could be worse. Instead it's "17 Again" -- passable fluff.
The tagline for 17 Again asks potential viewers “Who says you’re only young once?” My answer is “Science,” but then, a topic such as evolution is probably a little too complex for any movie starring Zac Efron.
Other than impeccable hair and perplexingly tight jeans, Efron is best known for his role in Disney’s High School Musical franchise as a dancer disguised as a basketball player. In 17 Again he plays Mike O’Donnell — who also happens to be the star of his high school basketball team. Unfortunately for O’Donnell, his dreams of playing in college are dashed when he gets his girlfriend pregnant and the story fast-forwards 20 years to find him now looking like Matthew Perry and working an unfulfilling job in pharmaceutical sales. His girlfriend Scarlett has become his wife (Leslie Mann), but she is divorcing him because he won’t stop whining about how great his life would have been if he had kept playing basketball.
Long story short, O’Donnell falls off a bridge into a mystic whirlpool and somehow transforms back into his 17-year-old self. Deciding to embrace the change, he enlists his best friend Ned (Thomas Lennon) to pose as his dad so he can go back to high school. There he learns things about his teenage daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and son Alex (Sterling Knight) that he could never find out as an inattentive father. Got that? He learns a life lesson.
By the time this moral causes O’Donnell to appreciate his wife and kids and return to his Matthew Perry form, it’s difficult to look at the movie as anything other than an overdone star vehicle for Zac Efron. The film doesn’t require him to step outside his comfort zone even once, and surrounds him with talented veterans who make up for his lack of comedic chops.
That’s the weird thing about 17 Again: on paper, this is a film with a lot of potential. Director Burr Steers demonstrated a good touch with young characters in his previous film, the flawed but affecting Igby Goes Down, while the supporting cast is replete with several great comedic actors. Besides Judd Apatow regular Mann and Reno 911!’s Lennon, there are appearances from Melora Hardin of The Office, Nicole Sullivan, and Jim Gaffigan. Regrettably, Jason Filardi’s script gives them little material to work with; most of the jokes are based on vague observations about how out of touch adults are and how teens think they’re lame.
The movie’s only convincing scenes feature Efron scolding teenagers for not appreciating their youth and telling them their lives will all go downhill after high school. His advice rings true when he’s talking to this new generation of young jocks, but it also makes me think Efron should heed his own character’s warning as he tries to evolve his career beyond the Disney machine. It’s not hard to imagine him in 20 years bemoaning how great his life would be if he’d only kept on making High School Musical movies rather than try to grow up.
Forget being too old -- Zac Efron is just too good for this</i>
three out of five stars
Pessimistic jerks don't often have happy families. Exhibit A: Mike (Matthew Perry, terrible), a grump who's about to let a divorce separate him from the wife (Leslie Mann) he doesn't appreciate and the teenage kids he doesn't nurture. But when Mike tells a magic janitor (don't ask) he wishes he could return to the high school glory days, Mike reverts to the confident, 17-year-old basketball star version of himself (Zac Efron) for a change in perspective and a chance to bond with his kids during school hours.
The buzz: Following "High School Musical: Senior Year," the now 21-year-old Efron seems to be aging backward like some sort of real-life Benjamin Button. Aside from blatantly inverting the plot of "Big," "17 Again" gives the actor a non-musical chance to prove his star quality—while requiring him to learn the form of basketball in which teams don't constantly break into song.
The verdict: Sorry, Robert Pattinson fans: Efron is far and away Hollywood's most promising young actor, and his exceptional performance amusingly—and sometimes movingly—shows Mike's mind torn between two eras. The rest of "17 Again," aside from Mann providing her reliable, warmth-spiked skepticism, flounders like a fish on the dock. Here's a cliché about bullies and head cheerleaders, there's Mike's son accidentally setting his pants on fire, and there's Mike's adult best bud (Thomas Lennon) trying every dorky, embarrassing tactic to win the heart of the principal (Melora Hardin). Laughs missing; charm gone.
Did you know? A health teacher (Margaret Cho) claims that encouraging high school seniors to be abstinent "is like asking a porcupine to poop goat cheese." Bad news for conservative educators, good news for goat cheese fans.
Time Out New York
What would have happened if, in 1989, basketball jock Mike O’Donnell (Efron) had played in that Big Game, gone to college and decided with his girlfriend to get a rhymes-with-shmashmortion? That’s an interesting scenario, but it’s not the premise of this film, which makes Mike 17 again but keeps him in the present—apparently because transmogrified dads make the best high-school-bully repellent. In 2009, by some cruel trick of biophysics, Zac Efron has become Matthew Perry. After losing a promotion and failing to talk his former sweetheart (Mann) out of a divorce, Mike meets a magic janitor who shows him that, yes, it’s indeed a wonderful life.
What follows amounts to a photonegative of Back to the Future (this time, the daughter crushes on young Dad) pitched at the wit level of an ’80s father-son mind-transfer comedy. (Thomas Lennon’s Elvish-speaking tech guru is the one inspired element.) To be fair, director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) doesn’t shy away from the ick factor of a 17-year-old dancing with his now-much-older wife, and Efron does a credible job of aping Perry’s mannerisms. Between this and his turn in Richard Linklater’s unreleased Me and Orson Welles, there’s evidence that the young heartthrob might make a decent leading man if only he’d apply himself.
Efron Proves He’s More than “High School Musical” in “17 Again”
As embarrassed as I was to be sitting in a theater full of 13-year-old girls and their moms watching Zach Efron’s new movie “17 Again,” I am even more embarrassed to admit that I actually enjoyed it. Despite its predicable storyline and cutesy Disney-Channel-Original-Movie-feeling moments, “17 Again” was a new twist to an old story, and provided some clean, yet not completely tween entertainment.
The movie opened with a sweaty, shirtless Efron playing basketball, and soon transitioned into him “spontaneously” dancing with the cheerleaders during a halftime show. After shuddering at the prospect of being stuck in another “High School Musical” for the next hour and 40 minutes, I was soon relieved to find that movie has some substance, and an entertaining story to go with it.
Written by GW alumnus Jason Filardi, “17 Again” is the classic story of the person who wishes they could live their lives at a different age, where clearly, everything is better. Echoing previous movies like “Big” and “13 Going on 30,” “17 Again” is the story of Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry), the failing 35-year-old father of two, dealing with a pending divorce. Mike feels like he threw away his chance at greatness when he was 17. It was his senior year in high school and he was the hottest basketball player on the team, on the road to playing college basketball. But he dropped his dreams in the middle of a game after finding out that his girlfriend Scarlett (Leslie Mann) was pregnant. The two end up getting married, having two kids, and driving each other crazy. Now Mike’s living with his sci-fi obsessed friend Ned (Thomas Lennon) and wishing he could go back to high school.
And in a magical moment, Mike become 17 again, and Efron proves that he can act.
Efron transitions from one high school basketball player to another as he plays the odd, yet very popular young version of Mike. Mike soon learns the truth about his children: his son is on the receiving end of the basketball team’s mean pranks, and his daughter is getting regular “tongue baths” from her boyfriend, the captain of the basketball team. After joining the basketball team, Mike, pretending to be Ned’s long lost love child, becomes the most popular kid in school. He soon finds himself in the same situation he was in 17 years before, choosing between college basketball and his family.
The movie has a warm, fuzzy feel that any girl, especially “HSM” fans, will love. Efron’s semi-cougar relationship with Mann is weird, but cute. He pulls off his role as a “man-child” well, awkwardly trying to be cool while still being a protective dad.
The movie has its giggle-worthy moments as the young Mike puts the moves on the older Scarlett, and Mike’s daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) inevitably develops a crush on her young dad. Ned’s obsession with “Lord of the Rings” and “Star Wars” is good for a few laughs too, especially when he attempts to seduce the school principal (Melora Hardin, aka Jan from “The Office”), only to find that she too speaks elvish. The film even pokes fun at Efron’s pretty boy perfection when Trachtenberg asks him if he’s gay.
Riddled with sex-related jokes, the movie earned a PG-13 rating, and gave Efron a slightly more mature role than his fans are used to. He definitely uses this role to prove that he is capable of quality acting outside of the Disney channel. “17 Again” won’t be up for any Oscars, but it could prove to be Efron’s breakout role.
“17 Again” is definitely a movie to see with the girlfriends. Despite its predictability, the plot moves quickly and will keep you smiling. In the end, you’ll probably even walk out with a crush on Efron and his sparkling blue eyes, no matter how hard you try not to.
North County Times
Many of us say we would like to travel back in time and experience high school again, but few of us actually mean it. In "17 Again," we witness the dark perils of such a trip, wrapped in a veneer of comedy.
In the film, "High School Musical" heartthrob Zac Efron plays Mike, whom we first meet as the popular high school basketball star dating the prettiest girl. Minutes into the film, we watch Mike make a decision to marry that girl after she informs him of her pregnancy.
Speed forward some 20 years when Mike, now played by Matthew Perry, is married to the same girl, Scarlet (Leslie Mann) ---- but that marriage is about to end, Mike is going nowhere in his nowhere job, and his two high school-age kids don't have much time for him or interest in any of his advice.
Desperate for a better time, Mike makes a nostalgic trip to his old high school, where he talks with an eccentric janitor, a man he later sees about to jump off a bridge on a rainy night. Mike tumbles off that bridge himself, waking up in a strange dream that apparently isn't a dream at all. Mike is 17 again ---- and again played by Efron ---- though in his head he's the adult Mike. It's a distant but comparable twist on the "Back to the Future" premise.
So now we have the adult Mike in the teenager Mike's body, dealing with the everyday issues of high school, including peer pressure, bullying and big decisions that can change lives. The comedy arrives when the teen-looking Mike begins dishing advice like an experienced father. The sentiment follows when Mike, attending the same high school as his own children, becomes a better father by understanding their lives more than he did before.
"17 Again" is a mixture of gooey and serious, but becomes a sort of twice-baked reminder of similar past entries with different twists, from "Freaky Friday" and beyond. Beyond little original, there isn't much good comedy pushed forward, and the uneasy scenes between the adult Mike and his estranged wife, or Mike's overall serious malaise, don't fit the same mood as some of the sillier elements. The mixed bag becomes a metaphor for the whole notion of going back to high school: It seems like a good idea for a minute, then we quickly forget.