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You don’t know what you got till you’re 17 again

BY REBECCA KOONS | APRIL 20, 2009 7:30 AM

Film Review: 17 Again
*** 1/2 out of *****

Zac Efron makes us wonder if maybe everything does happen for a reason.

17 Again is the story of Mike O’Donnell, who misses out on his chance to become a successful basketball player because he decides to remain loyal to his suddenly pregnant high-school sweetheart Scarlet (Leslie Mann). Nearly 20 years later, they’re splitting up because he essentially blames her for ruining the life he could have had.

This deadbeat dad, played by Matthew Perry, gets a wake-up call when he magically turns back into his 17-year-old self (Zac Efron) and begins attending high school again — with his own children.

17 Again lays on the schmaltz to make sure this is one of the most heartwarming PG-13 flicks seen in a very long time. It is, in essence, a funnier version of 13 Going on 30.

Still, this movie provides solid humorous entertainment, not only because O’Donnell’s lifelong friend Ned (Thomas Lennon) is an absolute riot. Lennon is there to save Efron from his occasional “stand still, look pretty” moments with his extravagant nerd lifestyle, his own Revenge of the Nerds if you will. Ned is the comedic underdog in 17 Again and, without him, things would have gotten ugly.

I never thought I’d say it, but I believe Efron has grown on me a little. Now that he has finally (at least somewhat) broken out of his High School Musical pigeonhole, I’ve finally been able to witness the teen dream outside of his most recognized element, even though he still plays a high-school basketball whiz. He has the maturity as an actor to portray a 30-something in a teen’s body, while still laying on the charm. It will surely be a thrill to see where this and future roles take the 21-year-old star. Hopefully, it will eventually be beyond the gymnasium doors, and never back to East High.

One thing that may throw many people off is the primary issue of the new kid in school actually being the father of students Alex (Sterling Knight) and Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg). As his teen self, Mike offers advice to his children while pulling off the classmate/friend bit at the same time. This occasionally gets him into trouble, however, as he tries to reconnect with his soon-to-be ex and is seen as a complete pervert. Other slip-ups include his daughter nearly making out with him, which was almost too cringe-worthy. Lord knows that will make for an awkward dinner conversation.

Second, though we get our expected happy ending, very little is done to actually draw things to a complete close. Why don’t Mike and Scarlet stay for Alex’s big game? What happens between Ned and his new Elfish-speaking best friend? I’ll save my other questions, so as not to totally spoil the fun. However, I suppose I can come up with at least one reason: Who on Earth really wants to see Matthew Perry in a basketball uniform? Anyone?

While we’ve seen the story line several times over in other films, 17 Again is still a winner in its own right. It has kept this nearly worn-out genre alive, with the help of some genuinely funny and relatable characters. If you’re not a complete Scrooge, you’ll find the age-old theme of appreciating what you have and living for the moment to be a perpetual pick-me-up.


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