Disgruntled about missing dinner -- I’m sort of like Old Mother Hubbard, my cupboards are always bare -- I begrudgingly popped in 17 Again, hoping it would curb my hunger before my enthusiasm as my friends consumed a smorgasbord of food some miles away. By all accounts, 17 Again should be a fine movie to sit back, in hollow-shell-of-a-human being mode, and mindlessly enjoy. With Leslie Mann, Zac Efron, Mathew Perry, Thomas Lennon, and Melora Hardin all cast, I expected the film to be, at its least, just as good as, say, What a Girl Wants. Unfortunately for my both me and my concave tummy, the end result was an irritable demeanor coupled with a whopping headache. To be fair to myself, this was after spending several long moments attempting to reason how an undemanding film could fall so short in so many ways. 17 Again is the story of Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron/Mathew Perry), once a high school basketball god, now a pill pusher whose soon-to-be ex-wife (Leslie Mann) and kids (played by nearly newcomer Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg, who really could have stopped acting after peaking at age 11 in Harriet the Spy) absolutely abhor his presence. O’Donnell wakes up one morning in his best friend Ned’s (Thomas Lennon) apartment, blithely blaming a lack of education -- because he impregnated his wife as a senior in high school -- as the cause of all of his woes and unhappiness.
In order to maintain this bleak mindset, O’Donnell decides to visit his alma mater, a school his children now attend, to revisit his glory days as a basketball star. There, he meets a mysterious janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) who decides to give O’ Donnell a second chance at youth. O’Donnell, now a coifed and well-dressed Zac Efron, returns to his high school to learn life lessons and bond with his children. From here the plot is sort of like Freaky Friday, minus the amusing comments about not having been able to eat French fries because they’ll go straight to Jamie Lee Curtis’ middle-aged thighs. In the end, Mathew Perry realizes losing Leslie Mann as his wife would totally make his life meaningless -- two thumbs up for that epiphany -- and even manages to build relationships with both of his kids.
For a story that is both straightforward and trite, I was surprised to be left with so many questions. Is there really a market for kids to see middle-aged adults slobber over one another in elvish? Should Elvish be capitalized? Why would Mathew Perry’s kids hate him, when he so clearly makes an effort to be around? On that note, why would Mathew Perry be capable of acting as such a rational young adult, only to spend the next 20 years treating his wife and kids like shit? If he had really lost his way, he wouldn’t still be trying… Why the ridiculous abstinence-only education scene? Why the party scenes with Red bull -- is underage drinking not a norm for a PG-13 film? Why, exactly, would Leslie Mann agree to do this film? I really missed free lasagna for this? The best thing I can say about 17 Again is it does have an over-arching plot; but, line and line again, instead of fulfilling its intended role as a cute teen flick with witty one-liners, almost all of the dialogue falls short, and I find myself embarrassed to be watching legitimate actors overworking face muscles in an attempt to stress there is still comedy to be found in taking shots at Kevin Federline. When the most amusing portion of the film is a t-shirt stating “Weird Al Is My Homeboy,” you know problems are rampant. There’s nothing to see, folks. No extras, no bloopers, no interviews with Zac Efron in his dressing room…sorry ladies…
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