New Line // 2009 // 102 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Appellate Judge Patrick Bromley // August 11th, 2009
Who says you're only young once?
Let's get this out of the way: Freaky Friday. Big. 18 Again. Vice Versa. Like Father, Like Son. 13 Going on 30.
If you haven't already guessed, you might have seen 17 Again before.
It's 1989, and Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron, High School Musical 3: Senior Year) has got it all: he's the captain of his high school basketball team, in line for a major college scholarship, and hopelessly in love with his adoring girlfriend. All that changes when, on the night of the big game, his girlfriend reveals she's pregnant. Mike walks away from his perfect life and into an uncertain future to start a family.
It's 2009 and Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry, The Whole Ten Yards) is miserable. He's passed over for a promotion at work, going through a divorce with his wife (Leslie Mann, Knocked Up), and doesn't even know his kids. His life hasn't gone the way he planned.
Then, one day, Mike falls off a bridge and into a vortex (I know, I know) that turns him -- you guessed it -- 17 again. Now, Mike's got a chance to do his life over, get to know his kids (now classmates), and try and win his wife back.
Here's the trouble with making a movie based on a gimmick that's already been done to death: if you can't find a new approach to the material or, at the very least, exploit the established conventions to their fullest and best potential, you're better off leaving well enough alone. The movies don't need any more Been There or Done That.
Such is the case with 17 Again, a surprisingly by-the-numbers approach to the old child-in-adult-body/adult-in-child-body that adds very little to the genre besides some unintentional creepiness. If the film merely wanted to be about a guy who has to go back to high school to actually get to know his kids, the age-switch gimmick isn't necessary: a dad can get to know his kids just by talking to them. It might make a less teen-friendly movie and doesn't feature a starring role for Zac Efron, but at least it would be less guilty of rehashing a tired contrivance.
But, no, 17 Again is determined to see its gimmicky idea through. Thankfully, we're spared much need for an explanation of the film's supernatural occurrences; the same cannot be said of scenes in which Efron speaks to teenagers (often his own children) like he's their father. Apparently, that's the height of comedy and creativity for director Burr Steers, who hasn't made a movie since the excellent and underrated Igby Goes Down. How did this become his follow-up?
When the film introduces elements like Mike trying to romance his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Mann) or fending off the sexual advances of his teenage daughter, the movie veers into creep territory. Unlike, say, Back to the Future, 17 Again never really finds a way to make any of this funny -- though I suppose I ought to credit director Steers and the cast for keeping it from becoming very icky. It's only when you stop to consider the implications of these scenes that any of it really registers. Still, it's probably best not to have to think about incest while watching a lighthearted teen comedy. That's just one of my rules.
Obviously, it's rather in vogue among movie snobs and fanboys (two circles I traffic in, intentional or not) to bag on Zac Efron, because he's pretty, got his start in the High School Musical movies, cares a lot about his hair, and spells his name Z-A-C. While this may disappoint his detractors (who likely have never seen anything he's been in), 17 Again suggests Efron could have a career outside of singing/dancing high school. He's likable, charismatic, and able to handle the light comedy the film provides without ever pushing a moment or mugging too broadly -- a temptation that could be easy to give into, with material like this. The rest of the cast is equally appealing: Leslie Mann is always good to see, even if she is criminally underused; ditto for Matthew Perry and Michelle Trachtenberg. The highlight of the film is the C-story romance between Efron/Perry's best friend, millionaire geek Thomas Lennon (of The State) and school principal Melora Hardin (The Office). Their scenes are so much fun (though I'm biased, because they celebrate geekery) you almost wish you were watching a movie about them. Sadly, it's never too long before you're whisked back to the age-switching plot and die a little inside.
New Line's DVD of 17 Again is presented in an attractive but bare-bones release. The 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer is solid, as most new releases are expected to be: detail is sharp and colors are well balanced. The 5.1 surround track is also fine, but not at all memorable. The lack of bonus features means the DVD is really only achieving the bare minimum, and unfortunately the format has spoiled us to the point where now we expect more.
From the movie to the DVD its presented on, there's nothing remarkable about 17 Again. It's a fine way to pass two hours, but begins to disappear from one's memory before the end credits have even begun to roll. Life may be too short for time wasters -- even mildly pleasant ones like this.
Stick with 13 Going on 30. At least that one has Jennifer Garner.
Review content copyright © 2009 Patrick Bromley; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2015 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
Studio: New Line
* 2.35:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 102 Minutes
Release Year: 2009
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Official Site