Saturday, October 31, 2009

17 Again

17 Again is another of those teen-switcheroo comedies, where the person goes back to high school and relives those moments so that they can get it RIGHT. We all want to do that, right?

Uh, no. There is no way you're gonna drag me back to that living hell. Buffy the Vampire Slayer got it correctamundo when the TV show claimed that hell was right beneath your high school, brimming with creatures with whom one would never want to be associated. And if anyone ever expresses that wish, it usually has to do with the BIG PLAY, something in sports that failed to happen.

And so it is here in 17 Again. The Zac Efron 17-year-old gives up a sure basketball scholarship and refuses to play in the big game when he discovers his girlfriend is pregnant. We flash-forward 20 years and discover that his grown-up self, played by Friends guy Matthew Perry, resents his wife for ruining his life. He is self-destructing steadily, and his wife (played by Leslie Mann) recognizes this and begins divorce proceedings. His kids, a girl and a boy, both in their own hell at high school, don't even care.

But something different happens in this movie. First of all, Efron's character is not catapulted back into the 1980's: he's 17 again in modern day, and high school mates with his own children. Efron's "Mark" discovers that it isn't about getting back on the basketball team and making the big play, it's about helping his kids get past their problems and self-esteem issues. And so he focuses on them. He knows they have problems when he finds his son taped to the urinal and his daughter snogging the high school bully in the cafeteria.

Zac Efron, we all know, is gorgeous to watch and charming in the right role, and this is that role. But he's not terribly funny. We can admire how he "becomes" Matthew Perry at a younger age, and he does mimic those mannerisms well, but he doesn't milk every situation for its humor. When Mark stands up in a classroom and tells his teen peers that they should all just wait for marriage, it's not funny at all and we cringe. However, he has such a great supporting cast that he doesn't need to do anything but look earnest. The guy who plays his best friend in high school and then masquerades as his father, actor Thomas Lennon, is just hilarious as the millionaire geek who tries to help his friend but falls for the school principal. His antics are worth spending the $10. And Mann as Perry's wife is very deft at comedy. The kids, too, played by Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight, are great at (1) looking their age, and (2) being charming enough so that when they do something stupid, we're irritated at them for not living up to their potential.

It's not your Peggy Sue Got Married, and certainly not your Freaky Friday. It's a warm take on the old wish. Thumb's up.


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