Zac Efron takes a lot of heat for singing high-pitched tunes and prancing around on basketball courts in the High School Musical movies, but in 17 Again he finally gets to prove that he's more than Disney's poster boy. Here, he plays Mike O'Donnell, a 17-year-old high school senior with a basketball scholarship on the horizon (not exactly a stretch for the actor). When he discovers that his girlfriend, Scarlett, is pregnant, he finds himself having to choose between marrying her and pursuing college athletics. He chooses the girl.
That was back in 1989. Twenty years later, Mike (now Matthew Perry) finds himself regretting some of those choices. He's now in his thirties, and life has fallen apart. He hates his dead-end job and wishes he would have gone to college. His two teenage kids (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight) have nothing to do with him, and Scarlett (Leslie Mann) is in the process of divorcing him. All the while, his nerdy best friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon), has become an inventor and has more money than he knows what to do with. If only Mike could turn back the clock. Article continues below
Then his wish comes true. After talking with a mysterious high school janitor, he's magically transformed back into the 17-year-old version of himself. He enrolls back in high school to investigate the lives of his kids, help Ned score a date with the principal, and chase another basketball scholarship. But will he choose a different path for himself this time around, or realize that his "mistakes" were not mistakes, after all?
There's nothing original about 17 Again. The film recycles a premise they've been making over and over since the '70s. And yet its stroll through familiar territory isn't necessarily a mortal sin. Surprisingly, the movie has both amusing and endearing qualities, and far surpasses its sub-par expectations. There are laugh-out-loud scenes -- especially with Ned and the principal -- and scenes with enough romantic sincerity to bring a tear to the eye.
It's easy to dismiss 17 Again as well-worn teenybopper fluff, but there's a shocking level of maturity here. This isn't just a movie for teenage girls searching for new footage of Zac Efron in basketball shorts; it actually works as a high-concept romantic comedy, or even a perfect date movie. Yes, there's enough here to please the pre-pubescent demographic, but it's just enough. There's plenty of depth and material to entertain an older audience, as as you can get past the fact that you're watching a Zac Efron film.
Speaking of Efron, the guy definitely has a career beyond the Disney lot. People will have a new respect for him after this movie. The role of Mike O'Donnell is trickier than his previous work in High School Musical and Hairspray, demanding a wide range of emotions, from slapstick comedy to tearful drama. Confidently, Efron steps up to the challenge and nails it dead-on. Efron is perfect for the role, giving an honest, charismatic performance through and through. He's one of the biggest cinematic surprises this year. Now I'd like to see him in a real dramatic role, perhaps something a little edgier. I just hope his contract with Disney permits it.