Whatever Zac Efron goes, two things follow: Teenage girls, and big numbers at the box office. While this will no doubt apply to his new comedy, 17 Again, it’s not really deserved in this case. While the actors are all in top shape, especially Thomas Lennon as the nerdy best friend, literally entire scenes are lifted from other movies. Originality is by and far the problem here.
Mike O’Donnell is a thirty-something workaholic who regrets giving up an important basketball game to be with his high-school sweetheart 20 years ago. Present day. He’s been locked out by his wife, his kids are distant from him, and a pending promotion at his 16-year-long job has been given to a 2-month intern.
Suffice to say, he’s regretting his life, but falls into a magical pool of water and comes out as his 17-year old self, looking exactly like Zac Efron. Mike then seizes the opportunity to go back to high school to sort of ‘re-do’ his life, but he realizes helping his kids is more important. Including helping his son, being pushed around by bullies, and his daughter, whose boyfriend is a practically sociopathic jerk.
Efron is fine here. Actually he demonstrates some actual acting-chops in occasional scenes, but mostly he’s almost lampooning his goody-two-shoes ‘High School Musical’ character. A lot of cringe-worthy scenes come of him not realizing he looks 20 years younger than he is, including when he lectures everyone randomly during health class, and tells a fellow student (actually his daughter) that “You will obey me Maggie!”
Thomas Collins is the best part of the movie. He plays Mike’s best friend, who is obsessed with all things science-fiction and has a not-so-subtle crush on the school principal. (The resulting date reveals she, too, is a sci-fi geek, and they engage in a conversation of Elvish.) Collins has been in some other movies recently (I Love You Man, Reno 911) and is sort of a rising star. Leslie Mann, as Mike’s wife, is funny and sweet as she normally is. Mann has been popping up in several comedies lately and it’s nothing but a good thing.
Obviously the performances are not the weakness. The weakness lies in the plot and the script. The story is not new at all, it recalls a mixture of Big, Back to the Future, and 13 Going On 30. Some entire scenes have been lifted from these very films. And the script falls in every possible pratfall and cliche that a teen comedy would present. Now mind you, there are some really great scenes but it’s not enough to save a very tired screenplay. C