Plot summary (with possible spoilers): As a 17-year-old high school senior in 1989, Mike O’Donnell (played by Zac Efron) had it all. He was a star athlete, the captain of the basketball team, and had a full-ride college scholarship at his fingertips. He was also dating Scarlett (Allison Miller), the most beautiful girl in school. Then, a few minutes before the biggest game of Mike’s career, Scarlett tells him that she’s pregnant. Rather than play the game and get his scholarship, Mike walks off the court to be with his girlfriend. They end up marrying and keeping the kid.
Fast-forward 18 years. The now 35-year-old Mike (Matthew Perry) has lost his way. His life is a mess, as Scarlett (Leslie Mann) wants a divorce and his two kids Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight) barely even acknowledge his existence. To make matters worse, the promotion Mike was expecting at work, after 16 years of service, went to some airhead recent grad who’d been at the company for all of two months. And, he’s stuck living in the spare bedroom of his geeky friend Ned (Thomas Lennon), a millionaire who does nothing all day except play video games and live out every nerd’s fantasy surrounded by Star Wars memorabilia.
One day, Mike visits his old school and sees a picture of himself on the basketball team during senior year when the world was his for the taking. An old janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) comes by, asking if Mike would like to do it all again. Mike says yes, and later that night, something strange happens. When he wakes up the next morning, it’s as his 17-year-old self again — though it’s still the current year.
Mike brings Ned into his confidence and after the usual freakouts, they try to figure out what’s going on. It’s a “classic transformation story” according to Ned, which means the hero, Mike, has to right some wrong before things can go back to normal. Mike assumes this has to do with getting his basketball scholarship and going to college instead of quitting the team and marrying Maggie, so that’s what he sets out to do.
But along the way, Mike realizes that he has a chance to help his kids in a unique way. Alex needs his help to make the basketball team, to get the confidence to talk to a girl he likes, and to stop the school bully from picking on him. Maggie needs his help to realize that she’s so much better than her boyfriend (the same school bully) and that she shouldn’t give up her dreams of going to Georgetown for the loser. Most of all, Mike gets a chance to make things right with Scarlett again, after he’s reminded that she was indeed the best thing that ever could have happened to him.
My Reaction: I like Matthew Perry, so I was hoping 17 Again would be a decent film. And though there weren’t as many laughs as I had hoped for, the movie was at least tolerable and somewhat entertaining. More surprising, however, was the fact that pretty boy Zac Efron didn’t annoy me nearly as much as I thought he would. Maybe the guy can act a little bit after all!
There’s not a lot screenwriters can do to make these transformation stories different, but at least the 17 Again writers did try. I liked how the story became about helping Mike’s kids instead of himself. I thought the interactions between Mike and Alex were great, and wanted to see that friendship fleshed out even more. The stuff with potentially making out with his daughter Maggie was expected and therefore neither funny nor gross — just total eye-roll moments.
What I didn’t like at all were the scenes between 17-year-old Mike and 35-year-old Scarlett. Those were all kinds of inappropriate, and were not believable at all. The dancing scene was uncomfortable in itself, but the courtroom scene where Mike/Mark was supposedly reading a letter from 35-year-old Mike was horrific. Like the kid would be crying like that reading a letter from his uncle! Yes, I know it was really Mike and that the words were coming from the heart rather than a printed page, but still. As an observer, that just looked dumb.
Overall, I’d say that 17 Again is worth a rental. It’s not a movie that I need to have in my collection, but I’m sure all the Zac groupies will be all over it. To me, it was just average, so I’m giving it 2 stars out of 5.