17 Again

17 Again

Zac Efron and Leslie Mann have a future as professional ballroom dancers.

(New Line) Matthew Perry, Zac Effron, Leslie Mann, Michele Trachtenberg, Thomas Lennon, Sterling Knight, Hunter Parrish, Melora Hardin, Brian Doyle-Murray, Jim Gaffigan. Directed by Burr Steers

None of us are born perfect. It is part of the human experience that we at some point regret some of our actions – or inactions – from our youth. There isn’t one of us who has survived high school who don’t at some point think that they would do things differently had they to do it over again. Unfortunately, life grants us few do-overs.

Mike O’Donnell (Perry) had it all going for him in 1989. A high school basketball standout with college scholarships coming in, one of the most popular guys in school, especially with Scarlett (Mann) an adoring and gorgeous girlfriend. it all comes crashing down when he is forced to make a decision – one that has ramifications that will affect his entire future.

Twenty years later, life hasn’t gone exactly to plan for Mike. He and Scarlett (whom he married right out of high school) are in the process of an acrimonious divorce. His teenaged kids Alex (Knight) and Maggie (Trachtenberg) think he’s the world’s biggest loser, which is true for most teenaged kids when considering their dad, but after being passed over for a promotion he thought was in the bag, he wonders if they’re not right.

He is reduced to crashing at the pad of his only friend, Ned (Lennon), an uber-nerd in high school but a software billionaire now. After encountering a janitor (Doyle-Murray) who only Mike seems to see and who has the kind of knowing smile that indicates he has information privy only to him that would be very useful in solving your problems, Mike falls into a convenient vortex and emerges out the other end looking very much like Zac Efron.

In fact this is what Mike used to look like as a teenager in 1989 – Zac Efron, which seems quite a leap of faith for Matthew Perry but there you have it. However, this isn’t 1989 – it’s still 2009 and Mike still has the same problems. There’s no going back and fixing them, not in this body switch movie. Instead what he can do is make a difference in the life of his soon-to-be ex-wife and kids.

Of course, his kids aren’t living the lives he thought they were. Alex, who Mike thought was a basketball star like he was, is the very much picked-upon towel boy. Even though Alex is a talented player in his own right, he doesn’t have the self-confidence to try out. Maggie is dating an utter douchebag (Parrish) who is trying – without any success – to get into her pants, but she is slowly crumbling under the pressure.

In order to fit in, Mike prevails upon Ned to act as his legal guardian so that he might attend school. Ned becomes far more receptive to this idea when he falls head over heels for the comely but frosty principal (Hardin). Also, Mike’s wife has begun to notice this kid who looks exactly like the high school boy she fell in love with and develop feelings for him, feelings she believes to be inappropriate. For his part, Mike begins to see her as a person instead of as his wife; the revelation is a bit of an eye-opener for him.

But despite Mike’s good intentions, things begin to fall apart as they generally do in body switch movies and he becomes dangerously close to losing everything that matters the most to him. Can he make things right or is he destined to live his life over again, this time without the people he loves?

I wasn’t expecting much from this movie. After all, most of the body switch movies I’ve seen of late have been pretty much rehashes in one way or another of Big. Quite frankly, this one is too. However, what I wasn’t prepared for was how much I enjoyed this movie’s offbeat charm.

There are some genuine laughs here, mostly supplied by Lennon. I’ve seen him in a few movies and never really noticed him especially, but he nails this one and comes close to stealing the movie. However, Efron – whose High School Musical movies I’m not a big fan of – was surprisingly good. He has an effortless, winsome appeal that makes me think that he is going to have great longevity as a movie star instead of one of those cast-aside teen idols whose stock plummets the older he gets. I think Efron has the charisma to parlay his teen movie success into a great career. He may even have the acting chops as well.

Mann is, as always, a steady performer who can play bitchy and sweet equally well. She does both here, but it is her tender side that I remember more vividly. Trachtenberg, a refugee from the Buffyverse, is solid as the Goth daughter.

I found myself liking the movie and believing in the romances, which is a credit to the performers more than the script, which doesn’t really stray very far from the body switch formula. This isn’t a genre-definer by any stretch of the imagination, but it is entertaining enough to give it a mild recommendation. Check it out on cable if you haven’t seen it before, and if you have a teenaged daughter, prepare for a loud squeal when Efron takes off his shirt. If you are a teenaged daughter, warn your parents that they might hear one; it’s only polite.

WHY RENT THIS: Surprisingly engaging, Efron, Perry, Mann and Lennon make this very watchable. A few actually funny moments.

WHY RENT SOMETHING ELSE: You’ve probably seen this before and probably done better. Not very groundbreaking, not at all.

FAMILY VALUES: There is some swearing and teen sexuality but otherwise suitable for just about everyone.

TRIVIAL PURSUIT: Zac Efron developed appendicitis during filming which began as a stomach ache. It grew painful enough that he had it checked out the day after filming wrapped and was rushed into surgery that very night. Therefore this marks the final filmed appearance of Zac Efron’s appendix.

NOTABLE DVD EXTRAS: Da Queen’s favorite, a way cool tell-all trivia track, can be selected to play during the film. Mostly useless factoids pop up every half a minute or so.

FINAL RATING: 6/10

TOMORROW: Love in the Time of Cholera

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