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17 Again (A Movie Review)

Updated: May 31, 2023

17 AGAIN (2009)

Starring Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann, Thomas Lennon, Melora Hardin, Michelle Trachtenberg, Jim Gaffigan, Sterling Knight, Hunter Parrish and Brian Doyle Murray.

Screenplay by Jason Filardi.

Directed by Burr Steers.

Distributed by New Line Cinema. 102 minutes. Rated PG-13.

It's a simple bit of wish fulfillment, but one that is universal. What if we could go back to high school, knowing all we know as adults? Would we be able to undo our mistakes? Could we finally be the cool kid? Would we appreciate being in shape and having few responsibilities? Would we even bother paying attention to algebra, realizing that if we didn't become rocket scientists it will have little to no bearing on our daily lives in the future? Would the realization that not everything which happens is a life-or-death situation help us sidestep the minefields of teen angst?

It's a popular storyline that has gotten the Hollywood treatment numerous times over the years.

17 Again is a harmless enough variation on the theme – not exactly deep, but somewhat amusing in its own lightweight way.

17 Again is also teen hunk du jour Zac Efron’s attempt to distance himself from his breakthrough High School Musical persona, though it is only partially successful. His character here – just like the one in HSM – is a high school basketball star that has some pretty good moves on the dance floor, but at least here he doesn’t sing.

Okay, so the role isn’t all that different, however this film gives Efron a chance to work out some comic muscles that were only touched on in his most popular part. Efron turns out to be a fairly respectable light comic actor, though he is slightly hamstrung by the fact that an even more talented light comic actor is playing the same role as him (at a different point in his life).

Matthew Perry plays the character of Mike O’Donnell drowning in bitter 40ish angst. Mike is a former basketball star who gave up the chance for college and hopefully the pros when his high school sweetheart became pregnant. Twenty years later he is separated, estranged from his kids, and working at a dead-end job where his boss is straight out of college. He is also living with his arrested-development best friend from high school (Thomas Lennon of Reno: 911) – an über-nerd who made a fortune in software.

One afternoon, after quitting his job, he returns to his place of glory – the old high school. He meets a mysterious janitor (Brian Doyle Murray) who asks if he had the chance if he would go back and do it all over.

Anyone who has ever seen one of the body switching movies of the late 80s would know better than to answer that question, but of course Mike says yes. Like those 80s movies, it’s all very vague how it all happens – it has something to do with a whirlpool – but suddenly he is, as you may have guessed from the title, seventeen again.

Now Mike must learn to deal with high school all over again. Of course, it isn’t that hard to fit in when you look like Zac Efron. At the same time, he has to befriend his own kids – who turn out to be much different than he had imagined. His son is not a basketball star – he’s a tormented nerd. His daughter is way more grown up than he ever imagined – and dating the criminal bully who is torturing her brother.

At the same time, Mike has to use his experience to rekindle his relationship with his wife Scarlet (Leslie Mann), who naturally is a little resistant to this young kid.

Lennon and Melora Hardin, the Hollywood MILF of the moment, are along for some very goofy comic relief, but honestly the two of them add very little to the movie as a whole.

17 Again is entirely predictable and it also steals several scenes from better films, however as a lightweight distraction, it does do the job.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2009 All rights reserved. Posted: August 11, 2009.


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