Quick! What's the movie featuring Zac Efron as a high-school athlete whose eight-letter basketball team starts with W and ends with S? If you're thinking High School Musical and "Wildcats," you're correct—although we would also have accepted 17 Again, Efron's first big-screen follow-up to his mega-popular Musical franchise. This time around, he's playing for the Warriors...oh, and also, he's the magically age-reduced version of Matthew Perry, in a variation of the adult-trapped-in-a-kid's-body plot plundered by numerous '80s flicks like George Burns's 18 Again! (1988), Judge Reinhold's Vice Versa (1988) and Dudley Moore's Like Father, Like Son (1987). As we all know, in a cinematic universe, it's only a matter of time before everything old is new again—it's no accident that the word Again is in the title of Efron's "new" movie.
17 Again was a spur-of-the-moment film choice—my friend Joan invited me when I decided to bag an altogether different movie plan. Undoubtedly aided by my low expectations, this umpteenth retread of a familiar plot device turned out to be surprisingly and consistently amusing, with laughs and sight gags coming at a brisk clip. Matthew Perry plays Mike O'Donnell, a man who's bored with life; his kids barely care about him and his wife is divorcing him. A janitorial "spirit guide" (gravel-voiced Brian Doyle-Murray, brother of Bill Murray) casts a spell on O'Donnell that renders him young and virile, and the fun begins.
The generous helpings of comedy are welcome distractions from a variety of plot flaws and confounding head-scratchers (Michelle Trachtenberg of Buffy the Vampire Slayer is seven years too old to keep playing 17, and Matthew Perry resembles an older version of Zac Efron the way a goat resembles a chair). Any movie character returning to his teenage years runs the embarrassing risk of his own daughter falling in love with him, and the incest-paranoia jokes are piled on deep—they rightly reminded Joan of Michael J. Fox's same predicament in Back to the Future. Melora Hardin of TV's The Office is brilliantly cast as the school's principal, and Allison Miller as O'Donnell's wife in flashbacks is a hot Jessica Alba lookalike to watch for in the future. If 17 Again is the first of another rash of teenage-reboot pictures, may they be at least as funny as this one. Rating: 4/5.