Golden boy still "17"

April 22, 2009, midnight | By Monica Wei | 13 years, 3 months ago

Tween flick has enough charm to squeak by

If anyone has ever wondered what "High School Musical" would be like without the musical part, the answer has arrived. "17 Again," starring the golden Zac Efron and sour-looking Matthew Perry (it's been a while since "Friends") is just another high school flick, but incorporates the age-old movie mantra of reliving the past. The idea is cliché, but "17 Again" has enough cringe-worthy moments and smooth acting to make the movie a simple tween flick.

Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) had a shot at a basketball scholarship to Syracuse, but gave it up to live a life with his pregnant girlfriend Scarlett (Allison Miller). Fast forward 17 years: his life is nothing that he thought it would be. He and Scarlett (Leslie Mann) are finalizing divorce papers, he's been stuck in the same dead-end job for years and his kids don't even talk to him. But when revisiting his high school, he meets a magic janitor who gives him a shot at being 17 again. The young Mike (Zac Efron), now calling himself Mark, befriends his own kids with his fresh start on life.

The whole basis of "17 Again" reeks of "been there, done that." The time-traveling Mike, or Mark - whatever - takes a journey reminiscent of Michael J. Fox's Dolorean, just minus half the entertainment and talent. His smooth, shallow acting falls short of Lindsey Lohan's more complicated portrayal of a middle-aged mother trapped in her teenage daughter's body in "Freaky Friday." The film ignores the awkwardness of a 35-year-old mind being stuck in a teen body. Despite being middle-aged, Efron's Mark is suave, with a perfect 17-year-old saunter. With the exception of some parent-like rants (no sex, don't date jerks), Mark is exactly like a teenager.

Efron even keeps the same moves from the "High School Musical" series. He swirls his basketball and dribbles effortlessly, even perspiring in the same clean fashion as he did in HSM. But fortunately, "17 Again" makes some attempt to steer clear of HSM's creepy, cookie-cutter high school scene. Mike's son Alex (Sterling Knight), who is also a talented basketball player, is adorable as a dorky kid at the bottom of the social ladder. His daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) is less loveable and more stereotypical. Maggie is the pretty girl who dates the jerk jock and her father attempts to convince her that her boyfriend is not worth living with after high school.

"17 Again" takes full advantage of the potential stickiness of Mike's transformation. Scarlett immediately notices the uncanny resemblance between him and her husband when he was young and the moments that she takes scrunching his face with her hands are hilariously awkward. Furthermore, Mike remains attracted to his wife – despite the age difference in their bodies. To complicate the matter, his daughter develops a crush and pursues him until he manages to convince her that he already has a girlfriend.

The gem of the movie is Mike's awkward nerd friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon). Once bullied in school, Ned is now the smart kid who's wildly successful as an adult – but still socially inept. He sleeps in a replica of Luke Skywalker's land speeder, and his idea of wooing women is "peacocking," dressing horribly outlandishly and catching attention – just not in a good way. His ridiculous antics add humor to the otherwise bland film.

The story of "17 Again" is an old one, and Efron's acting is too smooth and lacks edge. Even so, the small bits of humor throughout the film bring it up to just bearable.

"17 Again" is rated PG-13 for language, some sexual material, and teen partying. Now playing in theaters everywhere.

Tags: Zac Efron

Monica Wei. Monica is an unfortunate piece of fruit that has been suspended in a gelatin cup. Okay, not really, but sometimes she feels like one. Monica the strawberry chunk enjoys reading, sitting in trees and watching the clouds go by. She thinks that anything tastes good … More »

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