This sentimental, predictable tale of fatherly redemption smoothed over as a teen comedy is top-lined by Zac Efron (High School Musical 3).
17 Again is credibly enjoyable enough for the target audience of adolescent females, suited well to Efron initially doing an agreeable spin on his popular Disney character. The fantasy influences for director Burr Steers may be ones like Big and Back to the Future, as well as It's A Wonderful Life. Many of at least a certain age with think this is more Capra-corn than a witty, warped cinematic escapade.
Sharing the role of Class of 1989's Mike O'Donnell with Efron is Matthew Perry, still best known for his small-screen work.
Mike's life over the past two decades haven't flourished since he decided against a promising existence as a hoopster. His lack of drive has led to being on the verge of estrangement with wife Scarlett (Leslie Mann) and teen kids, sullen Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and picked-on Alex (Sterling Knight).
Through the aid of a mysterious old janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) and a little old-fashioned mysticism ("I bet you wish you could do it all over again"), this age-defying comedy earnestly starts to develop some innocuous charm. Working on the notion of having the opportunity to return to the past to reverse what was done, Mike becomes a high school senior (Efron). He's in school with his kids, and looking for assistance from nerdy close friend Ned, a scene-stealing Thomas Lennon (I Love You, Man). Inwardly, Mike is still twenty years older, and knows the truth about himself, and some of the goofiness hinges on a retro, uncool outlook on life though he looks 17 again.
Steers steers from his darker, risk-taking Igby Goes Down into cleaner, amiable territory, even with the emotional gamuts of confusion, curiosity, and depression glossed over. Perry comes across as second-fiddle here to Efron as Mike needs to be more grateful and modest for trying to reclaim past glory and potential for greater success. Part of the key to the movie stretching beyond its demographic is how persuasive the acting wonderboy is (with some subtlety) in relating how it must be for a jaded man to be back in the body of a vibrant 17-year-old.
The storyline from Jason Filardi just seems to time-worn and familiar takes into account family values and life's important lessons with important latter set pieces taking place on the court for the big game and at the house for some raucousness. In trying to embrace this important time, one doesn't get the feeling of anything being on the line, of losing the what really matters the most.
In touching on key aspects of male life in adulthood and childhood, 17 Again has noticeable support from a wry, zestful Lennon whose Ned is well-versed in Tolkien, and Melora Hardin as the peeved principal. But, Mann (married to Judd Apatow) is more than decent as the personally impugned Scarlett, and has some good moments with Efron, one energetic scene in particular that would have clashed with the film's overall tone had the roles been switched.
Less creative and fresh than what might have been pined, having Efron and an able cast makes the flimsy body-shifting idea come off with some grounding in reality though without much artistic touch.