Movie reviewer Justin Morgan continues on his quest to review every Zac Efron movie by checking out 17 Again. The verdict? It’s better than he expected.
17 Again is a stupid movie that is absolutely uproariously hilarious. We’re talking about a movie the plot of which can be entirely and thoroughly described as “Big backwards,” which, if not cuter or sweeter or more poignant, 17 Again certainly made me laugh out loud more, which I think means it’s funnier, which I’m pretty sure is blasphemy. But there’s nothing else for it. Easily Entertained Platonic Female Companion (EEPFC, who accompanies me to all Zac Efron films I review because, as she says, “He’s so pretty!”) (and by “says” I mean “says repeatedly every time he’s on screen, so like 517 times per movie”) laughed and clapped and even maybe cried a little, and really what else do you need? Although it must unequivocally be emphasized that, despite any comedy-related praise I might lather upon it, 17 Again is as dumb as if you gagged Helen Keller and put her in a soundproof room, wrapped in wool, and history forgot everything she stood for.
Your 17 Again script was written by the guy who wrote Bringing Down the House, and we’re in the capable directorial hands of Flock of Seagulls from Pulp Fiction (as in, the guy who told Travolta that “it’s in the cupboard. No no, the one by your knees.”). This is Zac Efron’s fourth straight movie where he has played basketball sweatily. The high school actors are so old that the movie probably should have been called “22 Again.” But yet it caused uncontrollable hooting among the adults in the Midlothian theater audience, like owls with Tourette syndrome (little known fact: fewer than one third of those with Tourette syndrom present coprolalia, or involuntary swearing, as one of their symptoms), as if to say, “Who … who … who cares if it’s idiotic?”
It’s 1989. Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron, who, when pondering, scratches his head very very carefully so as not to disturb his spectacular hair) is on top of the world. The college scout is there to watch his big basketball game and give him a scholarship, his girlfriend is super hot (Allison Miller), and he knows how to dance like a cheerleader, which is apparently a plus in 1989.
But after playing the “It’s nothing.” “No tell me what’s wrong!” game with his girlfriend when he’s supposed to be prepping for basketball (please, never play this pick-an-argument game; she’ll tell you when she wants to), Mike learns a fact that sends all of his plans crashing to the ground. He realizes that his life is not going to go the way he thought it was.
Sure enough, twenty years later, he has grown up to be Matthew Perry.
We need to address two ridiculous things. No, three. The first ridiculous thing is that teen Mike O’Donnell is played by Zac Efron and adult Mike O’Donnell is played by Matthew Perry, which is kind of less believable than the body-swapping vortex part that comes later. The second thing, well, honestly, we’re wasting our time here. What with one thing or another, none of which (things) make any sense, Mike is rejuvenated into his high school Zac Efron body, and that’s when things get hilarious.
The lion’s share of the hilarity is due to the tremendous work of Thomas Lennon as nerdy sidekick Ned Gold. Without Lennon, and the fact that his character is pretty accurate as Hollywood portrayals of nerds go, the whole thing falls apart. Sterling Knight is also strikingly funny as the deadpan Alex O’Donnell.
Does it matter that you probably already know what all the jokes are? As you’re sitting in the theater (or on your couch, because this would make a fantastic Netflix), watching the entirely predictable yet, somehow, perfectly timed and executed jokes play out in front of you, are you going to care that you could have sketched out the entire plot with a notepad and a pencil and ten minutes? If so, the four star rating does not apply to you. If not, enjoy!
But please do not misunderstand me here: if you want a movie set in the 80’s with heft and darkness and characterization and which you’ll remember, see Adventureland. But if all you want is to laugh a lot at a funny nerd and some stereotypes of high school and never think of it again, you’ve come to precisely the right place.