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The Independent Critic

Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann, Michelle Trachtenberg, Thomas Lennon
Burr Steers
Jason Filardi
Rated PG-13
100 Mins.
New Line

 "17 Again" Review 
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I don't understand.

It has been widely publicized that Zac Efron considers his latest film, "17 Again," a transition film from his teenie-bopper "High School Musical" days to his life as a young adult actor.

Can someone explain this to me?

How is portraying a 17-year-old high school senior a transition from playing a 17-year-old high school senior?

Is it the fact that "17 Again" is rated PG-13 while "High School Musical" carries your typical Disney G-rating?

Is it the fact that in "17 Again" Efron is actually, well, 17 again and is really more "mature?"

I understood the whole "Hairspray" thing. Heck, it worked out pretty well for the almost impossibly cute Efron.

But, really. Why "17 Again," another high school flick and, worst of all, a high school flick that has a tired old "body switch" formula going on for it?

I don't understand.

Despite my complete lack of understanding as to what could have motivated Zac Efron to sign on for "17 Again," I have to acknowledge that the film is, in fact, far better than I expected.

In "17 Again," we are introduced to Efron as the younger Mike O'Donnell. O'Donnell is a promising high school basketball star who throws it all away his senior year when his beautiful girlfriend becomes pregnant.

Flash forward 20 years...The adult O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) is married to that same high school sweetie, Scarlet (Leslie Mann), and has two distant teens, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight). O'Donnell has pretty much screwed up his family by wallowing in self pity for most of the last 20 years, and he and Scarlet are headed for divorce.

Oh, what he wouldn't give to do it all over again.

Know where we're going?

Of course, he runs into a semi-mysterious high school janitor (Brian Doyle Murray) and before he knows it he is 17 again and out to right all his wrongs.

The sophomore effort from promising director Burr Steers ("Igby Goes Down"), "17 Again" is a near hit-and-miss affair that still pleases far more than one might expect.

Okay, it pleased far more than I expected.

Efron continues to display quite the strong screen presence,  from an early dance sequence to multiple scenes of his constantly being the good guy to, you guessed it, the guy who turns up to help out both his goth daughter and his socially inhibited son. Efron does, indeed, show moments of a more mature screen presence. Here's hoping that his next transition film actually gets him out of the high school setting.

As the long estranged wife, Leslie Mann again manages to work wonders in what could have easily been a throwaway role. She perfectly blends the script's humor with her character's appropriate vulnerability, confusion and grief. It's a funny and occasionally touching performance in a film largely devoid of an emotional core.

Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight both have moments to shine as the oft-neglected kids, while Thomas Lennon does what he can as Ned, a lifelong nerd turned software tycoon who disguises himself as the younger O'Donnell's father to get him back into high school. Melora Hardin also adds some nice touches as the object of Ned's affection, Principal Masterson.

Kudos to Steers and screenwriter Jason Filardi ("Bringing Down the House") for addressing the inherent creepiness built in to these body-switch, age regression storylines. While they do so in mostly subtle ways, they add enough in the way of expository lines and scenes to keep "17 Again" from ever feeling too perverted.

Rolfe Kent's musical score feels a bit overwhelming at times, as does most of the film. Given Steers' history of directing "Igby Goes Down," I would have expected a stronger balance and more adventurous take on a theme that has been the subject of films from the likes of Tom Hanks all the way to George Burns.

Tech credits generally suffice, though the special effects feel a tad bit '80's and are at least modestly distracting. Glorified cameos by comics Jim Gaffigan and Margaret Cho are largely wasted.

Nowhere near as awful as I'd expected, given the film's modest buzz and minimal advertising, "17 Again" seems an odd choice for Efron in his stated goal to become a serious adult actor.

Of course, I'd have said "High School Musical" was an odd choice.

© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic