Think of it as “Zac to the Future,” as hunky teen heartthrob Zac Efron (“High School Musical”) plays a younger version of Matt Perry in this body-swap comedy/fantasy.
Back in 1989, Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron) was the star of the high-school basketball court with a college scout in the stands, a scholarship possibility and his whole life ahead of him. But, instead, he decided to marry his pregnant girl-friend Scarlet (Allison Miller) and settle for a mundane life in pharmaceutical sales.
Now, downwardly mobile in his dead-end job and loathed by his kids and soon-to-be ex-wife Scarlet (played as an adult by Leslie Mann), bitter, middle-aged Mike (Matt Perry) is crashing on the sofa of his nerdy best friend, Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon), who has become a techno-billionaire with a collection of “Star Wars” memorabilia. Then, a strange encounter with a mysterious ‘janitor’ (Brian Doyle Murray) returns Mike to his 17 year-old youth. But things aren’t exactly the way he remembered them. Besides, it’s 2009, not 1989, and he’s still 37 years-old inside-his-head. Plus, his troubled daughter, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg), and son, Alex (Sterling Knight), are among his classmates. And everyone has life lessons to learn, particularly about taking responsibility for the choices we make.
Unevenly written by Jason Filardi (“Bringing Down the House”) and occasionally over-sentimentalized by director Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”), the concept, nevertheless, succeeds, tracing its trusty antecedents to poignant pictures like Tom Hanks’ “Big,” Michael J. Fox’s “Back to the Future,” Lindsay Lohan’s “Freaky Friday” (a remake of Jodie Foster’s earlier version), Jennifer Garner’s “13 Going On 30,” Kathleen Turner’s “Peggy Sue Got Married,” Dudley Moore’s “Like Father, Like Son,” Jimmy Stewart’s “It’s A Wonderful Life,” even Diet Pepsi commercials where the guy wants to be young again.
But the timelessly universal wish-fulfillment tale unfolds with incredulous tenderness and a light touch, so on the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “17 Again” is an endearing 8, but let’s hope the volume of the sound track doesn’t continue to drown out too much of the dialogue.