Friday, April 24, 2009

17 Again (***)

17 Again.  102 mins.  PG-13.  Directed by Burr Steers.  Written by Jason Filardi.  Starring Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Melora Hardin, and Matthew Perry.

There are two things 17 Again makes abundantly clear to its audience as they leave the theater: (1) body/age switch movies have been done to death by now, and the concept is stale; and (2) Zac Efron is a movie star.  The movie begins in 1989, where high schooler Mike O'Donnell (Efron at 17, Matthew Perry as his older self - I know, the two look nothing alike) is about to play a championship basketball game.  In a clever nod to Efron's High School Musical roots, Mike breaks from his pre-game warm-ups to join the cheerleaders in a minute-long, expertly choreographed dance sequence that sets the right tone for the rest of the movie.  Too bad Mike's girlfriend is pregnant - he leaves the game (and a possible college-career and scholarship) for her, and flash forward to the present, where Mike is unhappy with his lot in life, with two kids who want nothing to do with him, and a wife (the always welcome Leslie Mann) who is seeking a divorce.  After a chance encounter with a mysterious janitor played by Brian Doyle-Murray, Mike magically turns into his 17 year-old self, and has another shot at life.  Needless to say, he learns some lessons along the way, becoming a better dad and husband, while hijinks and Three's Company-style mishaps happen all around him.  The comedy is pretty lame and the story been there-done that, but here's why 17 Again works: Efron.  He's charming and knows how to sell a joke.  He has great rapport with Leslie Mann and believably plays up the romantic angle there, and his scenes with Reno 911's Thomas Lennon (as Mike's geeky best friend) are the best thing in the movie and often do manage to amuse.  After this and I Love You, Man, where he stuck his tongue in Paul Rudd's mouth, Lennon is proving to be quite a valuable comedic utility player.  Though 17 Again will be forgotten in a few months, I think Efron's going to be around for a while.  And, given his performance here, that's not necessarily a bad thing.



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