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A gaggle of giggling girls file into the theater, carrying lip gloss and bedazzled cell phones. Their chatter is littered with, “OMG! Zac Efron! He’s so hot!” Mothers and fathers trail behind with popcorn and Milk Duds. If the sugar overload won’t alleviate the headache, then perhaps the candy could double as earplugs. Zac Efron started breaking tweenage girls’ hearts with the instant hit “High School Musical.” Armed with an adorable smile and twinkle in his eye many predicted that Efron could become the next Mr. Lindsay Lohan, overtaking multiple spheres: singing, dancing and acting.
Manohla Dargis of “The New York Times” said, “He is pale, pliable and very pretty (picture-perfect for bedroom walls), with a curtain of hair that sweeps across his forehead and well-manicured dark brows as if gently stirred by the collective exhalation of a thousand virgins.”
The film begins on a high note, literally, with a shirtless Mike O’Donnell (Efron) sinking free throws on the basketball court. Ear-splitting squeals erupt from the harem near the back of the theater, setting off car alarms within a 10-mile radius. Riding on the waves of the sing-and-dance franchise, an added delight included Efron performing a dance number before the game. The poor guy looked like a dancer masquerading as an athlete as he ripped off his outer sweats and shook his hips in front of teachers, parents, and a college recruiter.
Time jumps forward as we see a much different Mike O’Donnell (Matthew Perry). For the last twenty years, his family has sat on the bench and watched Mike live in self-pity. Now an unsuccessful businessman in his mid-thirties, Mike wallows in his unhappiness and is intent on spreading the wealth to his soon-to-be-ex-wife (Leslie Mann) and their two teenage children (Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg). When offered the chance to relive his golden days, Mike jumps at the chance and falls into a younger reality.
Roger Ebert said, “Instead of wishing to be 17 again, he should have wished to go back 20 years in time. Yes, he becomes himself trapped inside his own 17-year-old body. Same wife, same kids, same problems.”
Efron has some big shoes to fill, no pun intended. Perry’s specific hand gestures and signature panicked cluelessness are key to the role’s believability. However, Efron convincingly played the part by capturing the key mannerisms and characteristics that Perry set forth. The young actor gives a voice to Mike’s inner struggle: he’s a man that still addresses others with the naivety of a teenager and has lived the past twenty years blinded by his youthfulness. Ironically, Mike finally grows up when he’s stuck in the body of a 17 year-old.
Although the film has its shameless moments (a spontaneous dance routine) and storyline gaps (no one really questions where the older version of Mike O’Donnell disappeared to), “17 Again” had its entertaining moments. However, the film failed to provide any new elements, choosing to recycle slightly different versions of “Back to the Future,” “13 Going on 30” and “Click.” Secondary characters such as Principal Masterson (Melora Hardin) and Uncle Ned (Thomas Lennon) stole many of the film’s moments with their hilarious attempt at an elvish courtship, eclipsing Viggo Mortenson and Liv Tyler’s performance in “Lord of the Rings.”
Teenage audiences will love this film, but the parents that double as chauffeurs might want to buy a different ticket, or they will be forced to make good use of those Milk Duds.
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