Review: 17 Again Falls Flat

"It's a good example of how nice people can still make awful movies."


17 Again is a disaster, but I don't want to blame the wrong people. I'm sort of fond of Zac Efron, if only because he makes grown women feel inappropriate about being attracted to him. And I like Matthew Perry, too; he has a reservoir of goodwill built up with this reviewer. I'd like both of them to go on and have long careers, unsullied by this foray into awfulness. However, I can't allow this film to go out to the general public without a stern warning. Please don't see it, no matter your age. I don't want humans paying money to make themselves less intelligent.

The story has been done, and done better, throughout the decades. Big, Freaky Friday (original and remake), and Back to the Future come to mind when thinking of comedy-based time-shifting parent/kid conflict films. It's a fairly easy genre, because all the conflict and humor comes from the premise itself -- namely, you've traveled back in time and now you're exposed to how strange/weird/delightful everything is. You get lay-up jokes out of the transformed looking at his new (old) sculpted abs, or seeing his mom and dad meet for the first time, or having facial hair. Whether you're going forward or backward doesn't matter, whether you keep to the present day or travel back in time amounts to the same thing, with the only deviation being how well you're doing everything else. The actual jokes portion, for instance. Back to the Future is an American classic based on the strength of Christopher Lloyd's zany science and Michael J. Fox's everykid quality. The new Freaky Friday (combined with Mean Girls) is the only reason casting directors still give Lindsay Lohan a shot, and Big was one of the initial breaks for All-Universe actor Tom Hanks.

Enter Zac Efron, as Matthew Perry, who has transformed into a 17-year-old in order to undo the mistakes of the past. Or has he? Were they even mistakes at all? And here's where the problems start for this troubled film, as it plays on reality and unreality in exactly the wrong ways, at exactly the wrong times. Would you like me to give you a semi-sick spoiler example? Why, I'd love to! One of the recurring jokes this film goes to the well on is the notion that newly-minted Zac Efron is a love interest for his high school-aged daughter. Of course he's appalled, but the writers and director don't just hint at it. They take it to awkward and strange extremes. Is it supposed to make us laugh, this potential "dad making out with own daughter" scenario? For me, it was just completely odd and pointless. I get referring to the overall uncomfortableness of the situation, but making it the centerpiece of your comedy for ten minutes seems purposefully idiotic.

Then there is the rest of this momentum-less pit of despair. See Zac eat bad foods. See Zac dance and shoot hoops. See Zac and his wacky sidekick friend try to figure out a game plan for his loss of 20 years, never once noting Matthew Perry (the adult) is missing without any semblance of a search party, or considering the fact that whatever universe Zac Efron is a star basketball player in would be a strange one, far unlike our own. Everyone is pleasant enough, but the comedy doesn't work and the premise isn't followed through upon. I wanted this to be an entertaining foray back into the genre, but it's a good example of how nice people can still make awful movies. Avoid it unless you're able to channel your fourth grade intellect.

Grade: D