Mike O'Donnell is not a happy man. Temporarily living with his best friend and ultra-geek Ned Gold, he is facing divorce and already is a virtual stranger to his two kids. He thinks back to the time when it all seemed to have gone wrong for him - a basketball match back when he was 17 when, with a scout watching, he decided to chase the girl rather than the match. How he wishes he could be 17 again and replay that moment in his life...
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(Bet you can't guess what happens next?...)
After an introductory sequence with Mike O'Donnell as a grown man in crisis, he finds himself as a... wait for it... 17 year-old boy again. Naturally his friend Ned finds this rather difficult to believe at first and an epic lightsaber duel ensues (he's enough of a nerd to have a house absolutely full of Star Wars memorabilia, you see... in real life the mansion is owned by George Lucas), with Ned finally coming to realise the truth. Mike feels that his destiny is to relive his school days and get it all right this time, so he enrols with the unwilling help of Ned playing the role of his father. Mike signs up, Ned falls for the school principal, Mike finds out more about his children in a week than in his entire life as a father... and so on. We have, of course, seen this sort of thing before.
However, we have rarely seen it executed quite as well as this. What looked to me like an enjoyable but average film turned out to be, in fact, rather brilliant. Perhaps I was the right age to fully appreciate it (after all I'm only 2 years younger than Mike as an adult in crisis), but either way this was one of those rare beasts - a teen movie that is fully enjoyable for those of us who said goodbye to adolescence quite some time ago. While the themes that you'd expect in a movie are here, the script is constantly inventive and very funny, with a mixture of good dialogue, sight gags and irony. The youngsters in the audience seemed to be enjoying the movie every bit as much as we did, but evidently for different reasons. The humour comes from both directions, the young despairing of the old and the old despairing of the young with even more intensity.
While Matt Perry looks (and indeed is) a little older than the character he portrays at the beginning and end sequences of the film, he's a very good comic actor and was perfect for the role. Zac Efron handles the main role as teen Mike very well indeed (a touch cheesy perhaps, but still good), and the rest of the cast are good too - Sterling Knight as Alex and Michelle Trachtenberg as Maggie, Mike's children, do very well. As the important female characters, Leslie Mann as Scarlett (Mike's wife) and Melora Hardin (Jane Masterson, the school principal) handle their roles well too. Hunter Parish as Stan, the school bully and Maggie's boyfriend, is excellent. However the main acting plaudits go to Thomas Lennon as New Gold, the geeky roommate - he's funny every time he's on screen, and his pursuit of Jane is cringingly hilarious.
The whole movie is funny, with a few emotional moments thrown in that don't feel contrived. It would have been a decent enough movie without Lennon's character, but he really makes it among the funniest films I've seen for a long time.
Overall 17 Again doesn't do anything particularly new with the age-swap idea, but it does everything with zest and imagination, and the end result is a hugely entertaining movie. Surprisingly good!
Rating: 12A (UK) PG-13 (USA) for language, some sexual material and teen partying.
Directed by Burr Steers
Never Been Kissed - not quite the same, but a sort of similar idea and a film I'm very fond of
13 Going On 30 - the age swap goes the other way round, Jennifer Garner didn't quite nail her performance but it was still a reasonably enjoyable film.
Also starring Zac Efron:
Hairspray - a wonderful musical, one of my all-time favourites as soon as I'd seen it!
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Movie Mood: Funny Movie
Viewing Method: Other
Film Completeness: Looked complete to me.
Worst Part of this Film: Nothing