Call me crazy, but I think this Zac Efron fellow might have a future. The High School Musical star made an impressive turn in Hairspray, and now he gets to headline in 17 Again. Yes, it’s another one of those “man gets a chance to be young again films” and yes, much of it feels like recycled sitcom pap.
Fortunately, Efron anchors the film with a winning, charming performance that has me looking forward to his future film roles, and hoping some good directors give him a shot in quality work.
That’s not to say this film is bad. It provides nothing new, but it is, in the end, enjoyable thanks to the lead’s star power. Efron hosted a recent Saturday Night Live, and I was impressed with his poise and comic abilities. Like Justin Timberlake, Efron seems to have developed some decent comic chops thanks to his Disney upbringing. His timing is good enough to make lame jokes funny.
The film starts with Efron as Mike O’Donnell, a teenager readying himself for a big high school basketball game sure to be attended by college scouts. The year is 1989, and Mike has it all: big dreams, big talent and a fabulous girlfriend named Scarlett (Allison Miller). As the game begins, Scarlett drops a bomb, and Mike makes a big, impromptu decision.
Cut to 20 years later. Mike—played in adulthood by Matthew Perry—has become a sullen whiner who fails to see the beauty in a life that features a still fabulous Scarlett (the ever-reliable Leslie Mann) and two great kids, Alex and Maggie (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg). After getting passed by for a promotion, he visits his old high school to sulk, meets a mysterious janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) and, through movie magic, becomes 17—and Zac Efron—again.
The film wastes little time on the potentially traumatizing effects of such an occurrence as Mike makes the split decision of returning to school and doing things right this time. He shacks up with his high school buddy, the now grown up Ned (Thomas Lennon of Reno 911), a software king who never let go of his geek tendencies. He’s a rich man who spent his money on Luke Skywalker’s land speeder, which he uses as a bed.
Ned plays Mike’s dad, and they enroll him in school. Things get weird as Mike discovers his son is a dweeb who gets taped to toilets, and his daughter is dating the class asshole who wants sex yesterday. Befriending his kids eventually gets him around the wife, who he was divorcing before the whole getting young thing happened. Obviously, being near his wife while occupying a 17-year old body creates confusion.
Efron breezes through the film, taking his role seriously and consequently transcending the material. He’s also rather good at capturing some of Perry’s adult mannerisms. At times, he seems to be channeling Chandler. His ability to do this makes it believable that his character would grow up to be Perry, even though the two don’t look a mighty lot like each other.
The supporting cast is equally up to the task. Mann, always good in her husband Judd Apatow’s movies, is quickly becoming one of the better comic actresses working today. Lennon takes a real goofball role and makes the guy endearing. Perry, in his few scenes, is pretty much repeating his usual shtick, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing.
The film rips off many sources, especially Big and Back to the Future, and it does it with no shame. Still, the cast, especially Efron, make it worth your time, if you desire to be mildly entertained by slightly-above-average fare. If anything, it shows that Efron most definitely has chops and certainly has a chance outside of the High School Musical cocoon.