- Rated PG-13
- Buy the BD
All photos © Warner Bros.
Reviewed by Jason Zingale
t’s easy to see why Warner Bros. is marketing “17 Again” exclusively for the tween crowd. The movie stars Zac Efron of “High School Musical” fame and, well, the studio would be silly not to try and cash in on that series’ monumental success. While the film will almost certainly please fans of the young up-and-comer, however, it might surprise you to discover that those over the age of 17 will enjoy it just as much. The movie might sound a lot like Penny Marshall's "Big" in reverse, but thanks to some great performances from its cast, “17 Again” manages to succeed as its own entity.
The film opens in 1989 when high school basketball prospect, Mike O’Donnell (Efron), throws away his chance at a college scholarship in order to marry his pregnant girlfriend, Scarlet. 20 years later and all Mike (now played by Matthew Perry) can think about is what could have been – an attitude that has resulted in losing his job, his wife (Leslie Mann), and his kids. When a nonchalant wish to do it all over again magically transforms him into a 17-year-old version of himself, Mike re-enrolls in high school with the plan to make good on his past mistakes. His own self-indulgence takes a backseat, however, when he discovers that his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) is dating the school bully (Hunter Parrish) and his son (Sterling Knight) is the one being terrorized. And to make matters worse, he has to figure out how to win back his wife before the divorce is finalized – all while in the body of a teenager.
Helping him along the way is childhood friend, Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon), a multimillionaire über-geek who sleeps in a “Star Wars”-inspired landspeeder bed and spends most of the film trying to woo Mike’s principal (Melora Hardin) under the fabrication that he’s his father. Lennon has had funny roles in the past, but never to the point where he steals every scene that he’s in. His romantic subplot with Hardin is one of the film’s many highlights – a hopelessly one-sided courtship bordering on stalking that eventually turns into a mutual attraction built on their love for all things “Lord of the Rings." And though that might sound like the kind of tired “geek is the new chic” plot device that’s been popping up everywhere lately, Lennon and Hardin make it their own.
The rest of the cast members are forced to play equally generic roles, but thanks to a solid performance from Zac Efron, “17 Again” is never dull. The young star energizes the movie with the same kind of charisma that made the “High School Musical” series tolerable to watch, and he proves here that he can handle the heavier stuff just as well. It might not be clear just what kind of actor Efron will become (whether it’s an award contender like Leonardo DiCaprio or a romantic lead like Matthew McConaughey), but he definitely has what it takes to become a star. He still hasn’t been able to separate himself from the role that put him on the path to stardom in the first place (his character plays basketball and dances), but “17 Again” is certainly a step in the right direction. You can complain all you want about the film’s shameless piracy of films like “Big” and “Back to the Future,” but that doesn’t change the fact that “17 Again” is more fun than most people probably expected. It’s admitting you actually liked it that’s the hard part.
Single-Disc Blu-Ray Review:
Warner may not have deemed it necessary to include bonus material on the DVD release of “17 Again,” but Blu-ray owners will find a healthy collection of extras including a pop-up trivia track, an EPK-style featurette where the cast and crew discuss working on the film (“Zac Goes Back”), and 13 deleted scenes. Rounding out the single-disc effort are interviews with the cast about their own high school memories (“Going Back to 17”), a behind-the-scenes look at a deleted dancing sequence, and a gag reel.