“17 Again” isn’t exactly a remake, insofar as it’s not based on any specific movie. But it’s certainly a retread, a whacky comedy about an adult magically reverting to a younger version of himself in order to remember what’s important in life. This places it firmly in the vein of “Freaky Friday” and “Vice Versa,” and it isn’t too different from Tom Hanks’ “Big.”
There’s a reason these movies get updated every 10 years or so, receiving face-lifts to anchor them in a new decade and give them a contemporary feel. Wanting a do-over in life is a timeless theme in both literature and movies, and playing up the absurdities of both adult and teenage lives is always good for a laugh or two.
The movie opens with an adult Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry) wondering just how his life has gotten so messed up: He has been kicked out of his house by his wife, Scarlett (Leslie Mann), and forced to move in with his dorky best friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon). His children, Alex (Sterling Knight) and Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg), ignore him — and he has been fired from his job as a drug sales rep after 16 years and zero promotions.
It turns out that Mike has always resented the fact that he didn’t get to go to college on a basketball scholarship because of Scarlett’s unplanned pregnancy. He thinks if he could do it all over again, things would be different and turn out right.
Then, voila! Out of thin air appears a magical janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) who makes it happen. All of a sudden, Mike is de-aged to 17 and played for the rest of the film by Zac Efron.
Mike re-enrolls in high school with the help of Ned (who, in turn, falls head over heels for the principal) and sets about righting the wrongs in his life. He gets in touch with his children to help them sort through their problems and joins the basketball team. However, as time goes on, he realizes he doesn’t want some imagined superior life. He wants his old life back.
“17 Again” isn’t going to blow away audiences by deconstructing genres or through the bravura performances of its actors. But it is a reasonably entertaining time at the theater, offering something both for youngsters (especially girls) in the form of Mr. Efron and his high school antics and for their parents in the guise of Ned’s amorous misadventures and obsession with geek culture.
The role of the cool kid recapturing his game is well-suited for Mr. Efron; he’s not asked to stretch his acting skills too far and responds with a charming performance. Miss Mann plays the put-upon housewife with characteristic spunk and wit — and just a hint of sadness.
The hidden gem in “17 Again” is the pairing of Mr. Lennon with the high school’s principal, played by Melora Hardin (Jan on “The Office”). The comic timing between the two is a real pleasure to watch.
TITLE: “17 Again”
CREDITS: Directed by Burr Steers, written by Jason Filardi
RATING: PG-13 (Language, some sexual material and teen partying)
RUNNING TIME: 102 minutes
WEB SITE: https://17againmovie.com/
MAXIMUM RATING: FOUR STARS