MOVIE: **1/2 (out of 5)
BLU-RAY EXPERIENCE: ***1/2 (out of 5)
Zac Efron as MIKE O’DONNELL (TEEN)
Leslie Mann as SCARLETT O’DONNELL
Thomas Lennon as NED GOLD
Matthew Perry as MIKE O’DONNELL (ADULT)
Sterling Knight as ALEX O’DONNELL
Michelle Trachtenberg as MAGGIE O’DONNELL
Studio: Warner Bros.
Directed by: Burr Steers
BY KEVIN CARR
WHAT IT’S ABOUT
“17 Again” begins with Zac Efron as high school senior Mike O’Donnell in 1989. These are his glory days as a high school basketball star. However, his life is turned upside-down when his girlfriend tells him that she’s pregnant. Mike tosses the ball away and runs after her, vowing to make her an honest woman and skip college so they can get married.
Fast-forward twenty years. Mike (now Matthew Perry as an adult) is stuck in a dead-end pharmaceutical sales job, his wife Scarlett (Leslie Mann) is filing for divorce and his kids want nothing to do with him. Mike wanders back to his old stomping grounds, wishing for a do-over… and he gets his wish. He’s magically transformed into 17-year-old Zac Efron again. With the help of his adult boyhood friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), Mike has to set things right with his wife and his kids, all the while in disguise as a high school student.
WHAT I LIKED
There’s really nothing new about “17 Again” that we haven’t seen in the theaters dozens of times already over the years. Ever since “Freaky Friday” (or arguably even older classics like “The Shaggy Dog”), these body-switching comedies have held a certain degree of charm. It’s all about execution, and it is done in a decent manner in this film. It’s no “Big,” but “17 Again” can work to a certain degree.
Zac Efron stretches his acting legs a bit, aiming for a slightly older audience than his normal “High School Musical” crowd. He manages the leap better than his off-screen main squeeze Vanessa Hudgens did in her latest flop, “Bandslam.” Yet, Efron still seems a bit uncomfortable out of his element.
The real charm of this film goes to the supporting cast, in particular to Thomas Lennon who plays Efron’s best friend that takes on the role of his Uncle Ned in order to get him into high school. Balancing out Lennon is Melora Hardin as the pretty principal that Ned has a crush on.
“17 Again” worked at least half-way most of the time. Efron manages to work a little out of his element, playing the heel, although he doesn’t fully commit. In this sense, he could learn a lot from his grown-up co-stars Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon. Still, the tween crowd should like it, especially since the Blu-ray case promises it’s “packed with Zac.”
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
There were two main stumbling blocks I ran into with this film. The first is the fact that while Efron seems to be trying to move away from his roots, he just can’t get away. The opening scene has him playing basketball and dancing, which we’ve seen him do in literally every other movie he’s been in – from the “High School Musical” franchise to “Hairspray.” (Well, he didn’t play basketball in “Hairspray,” but you know what I’m saying.)
He also has a problem embracing the role of the fool. Even though there are plenty of moments where he could just act silly and go for the slapstick joke, he seems to be holding back. A lot of this I blame on the fact that he cut his superstar teeth on being just too cool for words. The kid is charming, and he would do better if he were able to take a pratfall better.
The other problem I had with the film is that its PG-13 rating is very much justified with some topics that might not be appropriate for the very young fans who loved him on the Disney Channel. The story if filled with references to teen sex, condoms, teen drinking, potential abuse and teen pregnancy. Parents of the grade school fans might want to proceed with caution on this one.
The Blu-ray comes bundled with a DVD of the movie as well as a digital copy of the film that can be transferred to your portable devices, so there’s no reason really to buy the DVD over the Blu-ray on this one.
There’s a slate of extra features on the Blu-ray, including a trivia track that can be played along with the movie as well as the featurettes “Zac Goes Back” and “Going Back to 17,” the latter of which features cast interviews about what their life was like when they were a teenager.
Additional features are available via BD-Live, which seems a bit cumbersome considering there should be plenty of data storage on the Blu-ray disc to have included them. You can access Efron’s commentary track, along with a behind-the-scenes look at the sci-fi weapon battle between Efron and Lennon. Finally, the improve comedic actors Lennon and Hardin are featured in a BD-Live exclusive featurette “Tom Lennon and Melora Hardin – Unfiltered.”
WHO’S GOING TO LIKE THIS MOVIE
Anyone who wants their night to be “packed with Zac.”