Wednesday, April 15, 2009

"I'm not gay, I'm in love" A Review of "17 Again"

As you grow older, do you find yourself dissatisfied with your life? Do you wonder what could have been had you made different choices? Can you pinpoint that one moment where you threw away your potential, and set yourself on your current course? What if that potential could be given back to you? What if you could be “17 Again”?

“17 Again” is the story of Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron : ”High School Musical” 1,2, and 3), who in 1989 was king of the world. He's the star of the basketball team, has a beautiful girlfriend, a nerdy best friend whom he protects, and is almost certainly going to get a full basketball scholarship. On the night of the big game his girlfriend, Scarlett (Allison Miller: “Kings”) tells him that she is pregnant, and, being a nice guy, he abandons the game, along with all of his potential, to do the right thing and marry her.

Skip ahead twenty years and we find Mike (Matthew Perry: “Friends”) is miserable with his life. He's being overlooked for promotions at work for people younger, less experienced, and prettier than him, his kids don't like him, Scarlett (Leslie Mann: “Knocked Up”) is divorcing him, and he's living with his nerdy best friend from high school, Ned (Thomas Lennon: “Reno 911”).

At the height of his misery, Mike returns to his old high school. While staring at the basketball team picture from 1989 he is confronted by the janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray), who asks him if he would like a chance to do it over. Mike of course agrees that he would, and when he later sees the janitor standing on the railing of a bridge he rushes to stop him from jumping, and ends up falling over the side into a whirlpool of apparently magic water.

The next thing Mike knows, he's Zac Efron again; he's young, he's fit, but things quickly fall apart for him. He discovers that his daughter, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg: “Buffy the Vampire Slayer”) has taken up with the school psycho, Stan (Hunter Parrish: “Weeds”). He finds that his son, Alex (Sterling Knight: “Sonny With a Chance”) is not a basketball star like he was, but is instead one of the bullied. Can Mike save his family, his marriage, and make the most of his potential this time around?

“17 Again” is an inversion of the plot of movies like “Big” and “13 Going On 30”; instead of a child wanting to be an adult and have the freedoms being an adult has, we find an adult who regrets squandering his youth. In a way the movie is also a lot like “Freaky Friday” type films, but without the need to switch back at the end.

The movie is somewhat uneven in it's presentation as it switches back and forth between three types of story. Much of the humour comes from Mike trying to fit in to modern high school, but without warning he will frequently change into romantic-comedy Mike who is trying to seduce Scarlett, or dad Mike who is trying to help his kids. All of these versions of Mike are funny, but the transitions between them can sometimes seem awkward.

There are times in the movie where the filmmakers seem like they were uncertain how to progress from one part of the story to the next. The scene that symbolizes this best to me is near the end of the film where young Mike has screwed up everything, and lost all hope. Unable to make the story progress smoothly, the film throws this one scene in there to club the viewer over the head with it, and ,as if giving you giant visual parentheses at the beginning and end of this scene, there is a sort of jarring blackout scene transition.

The thing that probably surprised me most about this film is Zac Efron. I haven't seen much he has been in (not being 12 and all), but I found his performance convincing. There are many points in the film where it really does seem like he is channeling Matthew Perry's speech patterns and mannerisms a lot better than movies where two people play one character (EX: “Freaky Friday”, “Like Father Like Son”, “Face-Off”) usually manage. He also does a very good parody of his “High School Musical” roots, with humourous basketball and dancing sequences along with questions about his sexuality due to having too-nice hair, and sometimes failed attempts at being the cool kid.

I was also surprised at the sheer amount of geek humour in the film. Ned, who has grown to be a wealthy nerd, has his own subplot in the movie where he is trying to hook up with the school principal, Jane (Melora Hardin: “The Office”). He speaks elvish, dresses oddly, his bed is a full-sized landspeeder, and they even manage to work a lightsaber duel into the movie.

Despite the way it is being promoted, “17 Again” is not going to be that appropriate for your “HSM” aged kids. The film is PG-13, and aside from some minor cursing and sexual references, the movie plays around with the concepts of statutory rape (Mike trying to seduce Scarlett) as well as incest (Mike's daughter Maggie literally throwing herself at him). Unless you want to have to potentially explain some of these concepts to your younger children, this might be better kept as a date movie than a family film.

Ultimately, “17 Again” is an enjoyable film with good acting, sometimes great writing, and a good sense of pacing, it is ultimately not worth $11. The writing sometimes feels forced, subplots are left unresolved once their role in the main plot is played out (Alex and the basketball team at the end of the movie has no resolution), and the ending has a giant plothole that will leave you asking, “Hey, what about...” right about the time you get to your car.

This is a movie that is worth seeing, but it's worth seeing on DVD or cable in a couple of months. It's not bad, it's just not worth full price. If you want to check out “17 Again” when it hits theaters on April 17th, make sure to go to a matinĂ©e.

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