Friday, April 17, 2009

Review: "17 Again"

Yes, "17 Again" is, by some counts, the 5,765th body-switcheroo flick. And no, it doesn't make us want to see the 5,766th.

And yet it's not terrible. In an unfortunately resilient genre that's produced exactly one genuinely terrific picture (that would be "Big") a whole lot of dreck, though, it passes as a reasonably entertaining bit of candy. Even if it never quite rises to the level of being more than a disposable distraction, at least it manages to never become tedious.

One thing I liked about the movie was that it is self-aware. It does not try to fool us with plausible arguments for why a guy nearing 40 would suddenly be transformed back into his 17-year-old self, or skirt around the obvious implications of doing so.

For example, when Mike O'Donnell first meets his estranged wife, Scarlett, again after losing 20 years (only he has aged backward; everyone else has stayed the same) she immediately remarks how much he looks like her husband in high school. And Scarlett can't explain why she's so attracted to her son's new best friend, even after getting the necessary cougar jokes out of the way.

And when Mike goes to his nerdly friend, Ned, to find out how this could have happened, they consult a host of books, comics and videos to see what other fictional versions of his experience have to say. "It's your basic transformation story," Ned ponders. "Were you by any chance struck by a gamma ray?"

Mike is played by Zac Efron as a youngster and Matthew Perry as the elder. The two actors bear little physical resemblance to each other, and there doesn't seem to have been much of an effort to match the performances, either. Perry's still doing his ironic wiseguy routine from "Friends," and Ephron is still the blandly nice heartthrob from "High School Musical."

With the help of Ned (Thomas Lennon), who got rich off the downloadable music thing, Mike figures he's been given a second shot to re-live a life gone awry. He blew off a college basketball scholarship to marry his pregnant girlfriend, and has become a stepped-upon dweeb who blames his wife and alienates his kids.

So he spends his days befriending his son, Alex (Sterling Knight), coaxing him out of his shell to try out for the basketball team and ask out that cute cheerleader. There's also a bully to be put in his place, who also happens to be the boyfriend of daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg), who's been admitted to Georgetown but is looking to throw it all away to be with the loser.

Scarlett is played by Leslie Mann, who's been a standout in supporting roles in movies like "Knocked Up." She brings an earnest, believable quality to the role -- which helps when you're talking about a woman approaching middle age who gets the hots for a teen-ager.
"17 Again" is an old familiar story that didn't need to be told again. But at least it doesn't feel like we're wasting our time. That's good, because there are no body switcheroos waiting to give it back to us.

2.5 stars

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