Walking into 17 Again I was thinking it was my first Zac Efron feature, but I forgot about Hairspray, which I admittedly loved, but not due to Efron’s involvement, which is obvious considering I forgot he was even in the movie. Reading around the Internet it seems people are championing Efron and are waiting for him to break out of this teen idol stage so we can finally begin judging him on more adult work. Unfortunately, we aren’t given much to work with here as 17 Again carries only a few laughs and all the clichÃ©d plot trappings you would expect. To say it is downright terrible is a cop out because it’s too easy and I did laugh more than a couple of times, but to say it is any good would be a lie.
Here we have Efron playing Mike O’Donnell, star of the high school basketball team and overall hot shot. However, he passes on college to live up to his responsibilities, which would be his pregnant high school sweetheart, Scarlett. This moment is realized in the middle of a basketball game with college scouts in the audience as Mike throws the ball back on the court only to run after Scarlett. They hug and we flash forward 20 years to now see Mike as a deadbeat dad played by a tired Matthew Perry.
37 year-old Mike is getting a divorce from Scarlett (Leslie Mann), hardly has a relationship with his two kids and is living with his geeky high school buddy Ned played by Thomas Lennon –whom I only now remember as Jim Dangle on “Reno 911.” Mike’s career is in the dumps, he’s regretting the decisions he made and upon revisiting the trophy case at his old high school movie magic appears in the form of an aged janitor. When asked if he wishes he could be 17 again, the answer is an obvious affirmative and shortly thereafter a time vortex turns back the clock… sort of.
Boom! Mike is 17 again, but it is still 20 years later, which means nothing has changed but his appearance. He still has a divorce hearing to attend and children to care for. Fortunately he just lost his job and Ned is rich, which leaves him with only one question, “Why?” Why did the magical janitor give him this opportunity? He begins his search by convincing Ned to pose as his father so he can enroll in high school with all intention of attempting to become the star he once was only to realize the true reason was to get to know his family from a different perspective.
All of this sounds clichÃ©d and, yes, you have seen it all before. 17 Again treads no new territory and it stomps old territory with a sloppy disregard for its own quality, which is why the film itself doesn’t get high marks. However, the moments that do work come as a result of the PG-13 rating as opposed to a more family friendly PG rating. This affords the filmmakers a chance to be a little more risquÃ© in the sex jokes and open the film up to a mildly more mature audience, even though I’m not convinced that’s who will be buying the tickets.
Efron is obviously the current tween heartthrob, and I have no real way of judging his talent based on this film alone since it gives him littler room to shine. Hollywood and entertainment reporters alike seem intent on making him a star, which is a great start. He does have a starring role in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles which is still hitting the film circuit, but in the next couple years I wouldn’t be surprised if we find out just what kind of future Efron actually has outside of Disney musicals and tween comedies.