Rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material and teen partying, 102 minutes
Zac Efron is "17 Again", but Ned has all the fun in trite, derivative comedy
Zac Efron may well be one of the biggest stars on the planet, but his new comedy "17 Again," a comedy about revisiting the glory of the teenage years, doesn't shine brightly. "17 Again" is nothing new - altogether unoriginal, trite and poorly written to be honest - and the movie is stolen right under his nose by a couple of his funnier supporting co-stars. The dashing, stylish Efron seems unaffected by the fact he's upstaged, after all he's the main draw here, and draw them in (truckloads of tweens) he definitely will.
Talented teen athlete Mike O'Donnell (Efron) gives up a basketball career in 1989 to marry his pregnant girlfriend. Flash forward 20 years and he's grown up to be a cynical Matthew Perry, who's now a pharamaceutical sales rep with two kids (Michelle Tractenburg and Sterling Knight) who dislike him and a even more bitter wife (Leslie Mann), with a marriage that's headed straight for divorce. At least he has his friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), the geeky nerd and his friend from high school who's now a self-made computer geek millionaire. He desires to relive the glory days of his teen years to do more things for himself rather than others, and his wish is granted, except he realizes he's gone back to help bring his family back together, teaching everyone some valuable life lessons and growing up in the process.
"17 Again" is a pale revisionist coming-of-age story with a few fun moments, but lacks focus, solid direction and a good script. Efron, the handsome guy who became a big star via the "High School Musical" movies, is a game, effortless leading man with some sheer talent to look good but little else. The script takes every predictable turn you might think, and some of them are a little awkward and sometimes even a little icky when you think that a younger version of your Dad is mingling with your teenage friends.
"17 Again" is directed with an unoriginal flair by Burr Steers ("Igby Goes Down") and an overly-familiar script by Jason Filardi ("Bringing Down the House"). This thing was done in similar form back in the late '80s with then big-teen stars Kirk Cameron ("Like Father, Like Son") and Fred Savage ("Vice Versa"), and it was not even that good back then. It sheds no new light on teen angst or family dysfunction, and it's really rather shallow at it's core, with no help from tween sensation Efron. Also, Filardi has story problems: he can't add. He opens the story 20 years ago with Mike and Scarlett pregnant with their daughter, who flashed forward 20 years is now 17. That doesn't quite add up.
Fortunately, there are a couple of supporting players that save the day and all but steal the movie from Efron and providing "17 Again" with it's best moments. "Reno 911's" Lennon makes for one of the funniest sidekicks seen this side of Ethel Mertz. Ned wants to hit on the hot school principal and will do all he can to get her - lavishing her with outrageous gifts and wearing even more outrageous, loud clothes - and then discovering that in fact, she too speaks an Elfian language from "Lord of the Rings." Also around for a few humorous scenes is Leslie Mann (or Mrs. Judd Apatow) as Mike's grown-up wife who has a sense that she's seen the young Mike somewhere before.
By the way, "17 Again" is NOT a Matthew Perry movie. He bookends the movie with a few scenes at the beginning and end - but this is a Zac Efron movie, who all those tweens have come to see. "17 Again" is a mediocre, predictable and derivative comedy at best with a few sporadically fun moments provided by the outrageous Lennon or the colorful Mann. But it will be Efron who will draw them in and make this another big hit young star. Recommended only for Efron fans, for anyone else, find something better to do.