- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Capsule reviews of films opening this week:

“17 Again” _ This is one of those movies that requires you to suspend all disbelief and assume that someone who looks like Zac Efron could, in 20 years, turn into someone who looks like Matthew Perry. Can’t do it, you say? Well, that detail is just about as implausible as the film’s premise itself: Mike O’Donnell (Perry), a miserable father of two on the brink of divorce, gets a chance to relive his high-school days and improve his future by becoming 17 in the present day, all thanks to the magical powers of a mystical janitor. It’s always some odd figure on the fringe who brings about this kind of fantastic transformation, isn’t it? Well yes, there are a lot of elements of “17 Again” that feel awfully familiar. Director Burr Steers, a long way from his darkly comic, coming-of-age debut “Igby Goes Down,” takes you places you’ve been before in more charming movies like “Big,” “13 Going on 30,” “Freaky Friday,” “Never Been Kissed” and even “Back to the Future.” (Jason Filardi wrote the script.) But rather than changing his decision to abandon his dreams of basketball stardom and marry the high-school girlfriend he knocked up, Mike realizes his true purpose is to reconnect with his wife (played as an adult by Leslie Mann) and teenage kids (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight). Efron maintains the dreamy presence that made the tweens scream in the “High School Musical” series, and he gets a couple of amusing scenes as a grown-up delivering uptight diatribes in a boy’s body, but he still seems too pretty and lightweight to be a persuasive leading man capable of carrying a film. PG-13 for language, some sexual material and teen partying. 98 min. Two stars out of four.

_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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“State of Play” _ It looks like a political thriller, and superficially it’s the murder of a young woman _ a rising congressman’s mistress _ that drives the narrative. But “State of Play” turns out to be a fond homage to old-school journalism, and it plays like a eulogy for a sadly dying industry. Russell Crowe’s Cal McAffrey represents one of the last vestiges of that way of life. But he also happens to be old friends with the politician in question, Stephen Collins (Ben Affleck), who’s chairman of the committee overseeing defense spending. Cal’s various conflicts of interest _ and the congressman’s _ are revealed as the police and the Washington Globe investigate the killing. Director Kevin Macdonald, who already showed a sure hand in navigating complex plots and intense intrigue with “The Last King of Scotland,” moves the story along smoothly through all its twists and turns. (There’s one too many at the end, but if you’ve seen the 2003 BBC miniseries that inspired “State of Play,” writers Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray have stayed true to the source material.) Crowe loses himself yet again in the role _ a character actor in a leading man’s body through and through _ but he and Affleck never feel like a good fit for each other. The nine-year age difference is too distracting and makes it difficult to believe they were college roommates, which is crucial to the plot. Subtle as she is, Robin Wright Penn also has an uncomfortable pairing with Affleck as his victimized but dignified wife. These aren’t the things we should be occupying our mind with when there’s much meatier stuff to sink our teeth into on screen. PG-13 for some violence, language including sexual references, and brief drug content. 118 min. Two and a half stars out of four.

_ Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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