17 Again review: Zac Efron star rising
17 Again and Zac Efron spice up an old formula to deliver the laughs.
Those of us with daughters, nieces or a penchant for Disney need not be convinced of the Zac Efron Effect, but the young star's new vehicle 17 Again may just push everyone's expectations.
Yes, there is a choreographed dance scene. Yes, his character owns the basketball court. And yes, anyone who has seen High School Musical, HSM2 or HSM3 will be waiting for the next dance scene every time someone passes him the ball...But that next dance never comes and when Efron's not on the court, you may even forget there was ever a Troy Bolton. (If you never knew there was one, let us be the first to introduce you to the center peg of the HSM franchise.)
Efron says bye to Disney
As if to make sure viewers know this is not the next big Disney flick, 17 Again starts out with the ripple and sweat of Efron power-shooting baskets. Some may consider that a warning - if you don't like what you're seeing, stop now! But, do not be scared off.First, it's nice to see a guy being objectified for a change, isn't it? No harm, no foul, as they say.Second, and more importantly, this flick offers more than just a pretty view of a pretty young man. Efron and his costars keep the audience laughing — or at least chuckling — while their characters are working through truly adult issues. Issues such as a teen pregnancy that steals a man's dream and how the result in life is a man who cannot connect with his children and a love that's been weighed down by regret and anger.This is a feel good movie - we promise! It just manages to embrace the sweet and the funny, while ditching that juvenile Disney energy.We've heard it argued that surrounding Efron with an all star talent isn't going to attract an older audience or lend credence to a movie built around a Disney prince. If you're angry you're not as pretty as Efron, stay home, but frankly, the casting in this movie hits.Friends alum Matthew Perry bares mention for a fine and grumbly performance as the adult Mike, but it's Efron who is at the center of it all and he doesn't miss a beat. Even more impressive than how he mimics Perry's infamous expression of disdain is his apparent struggle to remember he's only 17 and behave appropriately. He also truly seems to get it when he looks around during basketball practice and marvels at how young and healthy they all are.And whether names like Thomas Lennon and Leslie Mann are enough to lure you to the theater, they certainly up the game once you're there!Efron spends much of the movie riffing with funnyman Lennon of Reno 911, who plays a financially successful sci-fi geek and Mike's best pal. The painfully uncool character comes built for laughs, but Lennon pumps up even the most obvious ones with originality. His courtship of The Office alum Melora Hardin's uptight character is endearing fun, while it's just downright inspiring that he can keep up with young Efron in their epic Jedi battle scene.In contrast to the easy chemistry between the guys, Efron and Mann vacillate between easy and awkward - as they should be! Mann, of Knocked Up and the 40 Year old Virgin, puts on her best drunk for her first run-in with the familiar-looking young stud and then walks a tightrope as she fights her inappropriate attraction to him.The kids also deliver. Gossip Girl's Michelle Trachtenberg's seduction scene with Efron is surprising fun and Weeds' Hunter Parrish is barely recognizable as the bleached out campus bully. Sterling Knight works as Efron's son and straight man, especially because he looks and feels more innocent than Efron, maintaining that father/son energy throughout.
17 Again twist!
Admittedly, the premise for 17 Again won't get an A for originality. This reviewer, in particular, was raised on the countless body swap movies of the '80s and even the folks who made 17 Again called it Big in Reverse, because instead of a boy waking up in man's body, a man wakes up in boy's body.SheKnows give kudos to 17 Again, however, for throwing a host of quirky characters and fun, modern twists on that age old formula. While the fish out of water element isn't new, for example, this version breeds new conflicts, such as the central question: if I only knew then what I know now, would I do it differently?As Mike takes that journey, he's also forced to interact with his kids as a peer, a truly eye-opening experience and win back his now much older wife. This, all while dodging the hurtles of high school post-Y2K where kids are given condoms in class and anything you do can turn up on YouTube.For an extra dose of fun, fans of '80s flicks will also catch some direct homages to their old school faves. Remember in Just One of the Guys, for example, when cutie Morehouse finally stood up to Greg the table-tipping goon? Clearly writer Jason Filardi does, because while bad boy Stan offers his own brand of torture in 17 Again, Mike chooses to use his words instead of his fists and comes to the same final conclusion Morehouse did two decades ago: Stan's attitude problem is caused by either a low IQ or a small...er, pinky.See, we told you this wasn't Disney!