Every tween’s heartthrob Zac Efron has struck again. That is, struck a chord with his female fans and now, possibly some above 12 years of age. Don’t hold his fluffy beginnings at High School Musical against him; Efron gets to sharpen his acting chops here in this family-fun show.
Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry), 37, is sick of his life and wants a do-over. He has nothing in common with his children, his wife is leaving him, and he’s living with his best friend who’s a glorified dork. As he reminisces about his “glory days” as a basketball champion in his old high school, now his children’s high school, a janitor – Hollywood’s preferred image of an accessible God – asks him if he wants to do it (life) all over again. He answers with a hearty “Yes!”
Driving along a bridge through a thunderstorm, Mike sees the very same janitor about to jump off into the ocean. He falls in instead, and when he comes to, he is 17 again. He has been given the chance to live his life all over again and do it right this time. And so he heads to high school in a bid to help his own children.
Due references to popular culture are made: Clay Aiken is mentioned, K-Fed is mocked and the social hierarchy in American high schools is brought into play. Clichés are unabashedly employed.
It’s a predictable plot, but the movie is kept afloat by the buoyant performances from the cast. The chemistry between Zac Efron and Leslie Mann (who plays Scarlett, Mike’s wife who develops a Mrs Robinson-style crush on this “young man”) is surprisingly fresh. The “oh-no-I-can’t-bear-to-watch” moments, such as the one where Scarlett and young Mike are caught dancing in a compromising position by their son Alex.
Efron’s portrayal of a grown father trapped in a 17-year-old’s body is realistic and hilarious. As he lectures his classmates on the merits of abstinence before marriage with such conviction, the female population of the school falls for him, including Maggie, his daughter who is also his classmate.
What happens in the end, you can pretty much predict from the trailer. Yet as light-hearted family comedies go, 17 Again is worth watching, for Efron’s sparkling performance, and laugh-out-loud moments involving two dorks conversing in Elfish. It ends with the “aw shucks” that is compulsory for every family-friendly movie. Predictable, but still lots of fun.