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Saturday, Feb. 24, 2024
The Observer

Zac Efron Makes You Want to See "17 Again" & Again & Again...

A shiny silver car pulls into a parking spot and out steps a hot guy in tight black jeans, Converses, a tight white tee and a leather jacket. The camera rises to meet his face, but Aviators cover his blue eyes. He tosses his trademark hair and struts into school. No, this isn't "Twilight" all over again, but if this image sounds appealing, then "17 Again" is the movie for you. Because more than being a comedy about reliving high school, it's a launching pad for Zac Efron's new career post "High School Musical.""17 Again" grossed 24.1 million dollars this weekend making it the No. 1 movie at the box office and beating out the Russell Crowe flick "State of Play." This probably says more about the power of the audience - predominantly tween and teenage girls - than it does about acting skills. However, there is no doubt it was a successful first solo performance for the teen idol. The film is your basic body-swapping film; picture Tom Hank's "Big" in reverse, that centers on Efron/Matthew Perry's character Mike O'Donnell. Perry is a 37-year old Mike in a rut. He hates his job, his wife is divorcing him, his kids want nothing to do with him and he regrets how his life ended up. He longs for a friendlier year like 1989 when he was on top of world as the star basketball player. But when a mysterious janitor (later dubbed his Spirit Guide) does some magic, the cheesy special effects follow and Mike is suddenly 'seventeen again." He quickly realizes his second chance is not about getting a college basketball scholarship but about helping his family. His wife is unhappy and his daughter is dating a jerk that is beating up her little brother. Besides the unoriginal premise the film is also cliché at other times. It can be a bit heavy on the messages (we get it - family is important) and the film has all the regular teen comedy moments. But strangely enough, Efron actually seems to pull off that he is a middle-aged man. He is oddly believable when he spouts off an awkward speech about abstinence and tries to teach loose girls to respect themselves. And it was refreshing to see Efron in a PG-13 role. We all know he can dance and sing; see the "High School Musical" series or "Hairspray" as evidence. But this time around the only thing Mike had in common with Troy Bolton was a few good basketball moves and some really great hair. Disney probably shuddered to see Efron curse, get his teenage girlfriend pregnant and talk about condoms. It is apparent that Efron has matured, and this was the opportunity for him to step out on his own. Efron is actually funny, but if you need confirmation to believe this check out his SNL skit "High School Musical 4".The film is hardly perfect and definitely awkward at times. The charming Leslie Mann plays Mike's wife, but when Efron leans in for a kiss you can't help but squirm. And the teenage version of Mike also has a horribly tense encounter with his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) as she tries to make a move on her dad.Efron does not deserve all the credit as he is surrounded by much more seasoned comedic actors like Thomas Lennon ("Reno 911!") as Ned the geeky best friend turned millionaire and Melora Hardin ("The Office") as the school principal. Lennon is one of the best parts of the film as he takes on an impossibly dorky character and makes him bearable to watch. When he first discovers Efron after the transformation, the two have an epic sequence involving medieval weapons and light sabers. On the other hand, Perry is horribly underused. This is Chandler Bing we're talking about here and he just mopes around for twenty minutes. Perhaps, this was a ploy on the director's part so that you are on the edge of your seat for your protagonist to transform and get more interesting. In the end, "17 Again" knows what is it is - a showcase and springboard for Efron. And in the end he is funny, engaging and carries the film. Plus, you get to see him cry. If you are a fan of him, his hair or his six-pack, this is definitely a film for you.