Directed by Burr Steers and starring Zac Efron, 17 Again seemed poised to follow in a string of obnoxiously endearing and self-serving pieces of cinema.
Efron and his supporting cast, however, dismiss this fear almost immediately with their humorous dialogue, laugh-out-loud physical comedy and enough awkward sexual moments to make even the most critical of observers crack a smile.
17 Again focuses on the life of Mike O'Donnell, a former high school basketball star and current jaded father. Matthew Perry plays the adult O'Donnell and Efron portrays his teenage counterpart. Having abandoned his chance for a college basketball scholarship back in the '80s to marry his pregnant girlfriend Scarlett (Allison Miller as a teenager and Leslie Mann as an adult), O'Donnell finds himself nearly 40 years old, in the middle of a messy divorce and completely out of touch with his kids, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight).
O'Donnell's life finally hits rock bottom when he is fired from his job. Depressed and remembering better days, he returns to his high school to admire an old photograph of his former basketball star-self and to reflect on the life he could have had.
No sooner does he wish for a second chance than a mysterious drifter (Brian Doyle-Murray) appears to grant him his wish to "do it all over again."
The entire cast does an excellent job of delivering well-timed jokes and amusing observations, while at the same time bringing genuine sentiment to the screen when the story calls for it.
Knight's portrayal of the slightly underdeveloped teenage boy just trying to be noticed by a cheerleader is priceless - he does everything from stuttering to accidentally setting his pants on fire. Thomas Lennon, as sci-fi geek and O'Donnell's best friend Ned Gold, has the audience laughing out loud with his zany props and insanely desperate flirting with high school principal Jane Masterson (Melora Hardin).
Efron, though, is the one who truly steals the show. He does a very impressive job of acting in both word and action like a 40-year-old man who is suddenly "17 again," from showing up to school in an outfit that he "saw on K-Fed" to talking into his iPhone the wrong way.
Additionally, Efron retains many of Perry's mannerisms as the middle-aged O'Donnell, adequately adding to effect that he is an adult trapped in a kid's body.
Possibly the most humorous aspect of 17 Again is its acknowledgement of sexual awkwardness from statutory indiscretions to downright incest. Efron as his in-the-present teenage self spends time with his son, and cannot help but flirt with his soon-to-be ex-wife while he's at it. Scarlett, similarly, cannot help but be strangely (and physically) attracted to this minor who bears a striking resemblance to her son.
Another hysterically uncomfortable confrontation arises when Maggie gets a crush on her 17-year-old father and tries to "put the moves on him" at a party. Trachtenberg's flirting and Efron's panic make for one of the movie's best scenes.
While the content of the movie was impressive, the ending was very predictable and disappointingly cheesy. 17 Again does close on a joke, however, which helps cut the overbearing sweetness of the story's moral about the power of "true love."
17 Again is an entertaining film, and appears to be a step forward for Efron into a career independent from Disney and the "High School Musical" franchise. At the very least, the movie surpasses, by a long shot, Miley Cyrus' recent theatrical release in both content and humor.