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Star Power Saves

Movie title: 17 Again (2009)
Spoilers ahead: No

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17 Again, starring Zac Efron as a young Mike O’Donnell and Thomas Lennon as old Mike’s friend Ned Gold, is about…yes…being 17 again. No, you’re no genius for figuring it out since it doesn’t take one to guess the plot. Old Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry) starts wondering what might have been in his life had things been different and he not married Scarlett (Allison Miller/Leslie Mann). We’ve only seen the plot 17 times already and thought about it probably 1700, but graceful performances on the part of the three main stars manages to save what would otherwise have been a complete wash-up.

The film begs to be funny, and it is funny—about as funny as the antics of an annoying, pencil-tapping eighth-grader. It’s the charisma of Zac Efron that bails out a problematic storyline. Reno 911’s talented Thomas Lennon is Mike’s rich and nerdical sci-fi buff of a best friend, and although he too puts on a fine performance, such characters have by now become clichéd and nearly unwelcome. The out-of-place uber-ism really isn’t funny, though it tries to be. It stands out like the World of Warcraft gamers it parodies: “Are you now or have you ever been a Norse God, a vampire, or a time-traveling cyborg?” See what I mean?

Lackluster acting bleeds through, but it’s not too much of a problem because the parts that are played require little acting skill. There’s just no sophistication with anyone. The only slam-dunks are a well-selected cast of MILF-ishly pretty ladies and dialogue that are at least worth a nod.

Then there are those annoying oddities, the chief of them being the question of why younger Mike would suddenly be taken with interest in his older wife. If he lost perspective when he got older, and his turning young again is enough to cause him to regain his zest for what he once had but took for granted, the rest of the movie is rendered irrelevant. And why did no one bother to get a hold of older Mike when he was out of everyone’s lives for such a substantial amount of time? The movie never answers.

I found it exceptionally bothersome that the supporting characters were never sufficiently incorporated into the unfolding of the plot. A high school bully jumps into the storyline and never jumps out, but he is never developed. A mystical janitor plays a key role, but it’s a very small one as he has little to say. The message of the film was deemed so important that a lot was left undone. And in addition to some overhauling that director Burr Steers needed to do, we have the fact that Matthew Perry is not a believable older Zac Efron, not at all. Perry is way too tall, but damned if that occurred to anyone making the film.

Penalty points assigned, 17 Again (by the skin of its teeth) succeeds at being an entertaining film, making you travel back in time in your mind, asking yourself how well you would do at a second shot at school. We’ve all wondered about it and gone back and forth on whether or not we would do things over again if we had the chance. The focus of the movie, however, abandons that concern rapidly. When that happens, the end is three-point-shot predictable. But star power saves, and this movie is proof.

(JH)

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Grade: C- (2 stars)
Rated: PG-13
Summation: Mike O'Donnell gets a chance to be 17 again.
Director: Burr Steers
Starring: Zac Efron “Mike O'Donnell (Teen),” Leslie Mann “Scarlett O'Donnell (Adult),” Thomas Lennon “Ned Gold,” Matthew Perry “Mike O'Donnell (Adult)” Tyler Steelman “Ned Gold (Teen),” Allison Miller “Scarlett (Teen),” Sterling Knight “Alex O'Donnell,” Michelle Trachtenberg “Maggie O'Donnell”
Genre: Comedy

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