Hollywood loves nothing more than time-machine comedies. Witness the Back to the Future and Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure franchises. Proving particularly popular are those flicks where through some fluke accident an adult gets a chance to be a child again (ala Big), vice-versa (ala 13 Going on 30), or featuring both themes simultaneously (ala Freaky Friday).
From the title alone, you have a decent idea of what to expect from 17 Again, a silly sitcom about a miserable, middle-aged man who gets a new lease on life when he is miraculously turned back into a teenager after accidentally falling into a river. The lead role of Mike O’Donnell is shared by Matthew Perry (as adult) and Zac Efron (as teen), a couple of actors who don’t really look like each other. This bit of casting might which be by design, because the plot depends on almost no one recognizing Mike after his transformational dunk in the proverbial Fountain of Youth.
At the point of departure, in 1989, our hero is a senior at Hayden High School where he’s the star of the basketball team. But he quits at the height of a big game after his girlfriend informs him that she’s pregnant. Mike does the right thing and marries Scarlet (Leslie Mann) with whom he subsequently has two children. However, this also means he doesn’t go to college and never has much of a career to speak of.
Fast-forward to the present when his wife kicks him out of the house, and he moves in with his childhood friend, Ned (Thomas Lennon), a nerd who has made millions despite his lack of popularity with the ladies. The plot thickens once Mike morphs into a 17 year-old, since he goes back to Hayden High, the same school that his son Alex (Sterling Knight) and daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) are presently attending.
This second time around he has a chance to avoid the pregnancy pitfalls he encountered there before. This proves easy since the only girl who makes a pass at him, Maggie, doesn’t know that the new kid in town is her father. Meanwhile, Mike makes the most of the opportunity to come to the assistance of Alex who he finds taped to the toilet by bullies, and Ned starts putting the movie on Principal Hardin (Melora Masterson).
Other than the aforementioned father-daughter sexual tension, there’s nothing particularly novel or memorable about this cliché-ridden variation on a familiar theme. At least it’s well-acted by a game cast which does its best to sell a script riddled with implausible twists and turns.
How many different ways can idea-bereft Tinseltown remake the same movie? It’s déjà vu all over again.