17 Again (PG-13) ***

 

OK, been down this road, but it's a mighty nice road.

Scene From 17 Again
Zac Efron (left) and Thomas Lennon.
 

By Connie Ogle, The Miami Herald

Every generation demands its teenager/adult body-swap story, whether it involves Tom Hanks dancing on a giant keyboard in Big, Jamie Lee Curtis and Lindsay Lohan (or, for the old folks, Barbara Harris and Jodie Foster) switching bodies in Freaky Friday, or Jennifer Garner wobbling uncertainly in her high heels through the Manhattan streets in 13 Going on 30.

Still, though there's nothing revolutionary about 17 Again, the movie is undeniably enjoyable. Funny and lively, with a healthy dollop of sentimentality, it reassures us that all is not lost, except maybe our six-pack abs, as we descend into schlubby, dissatisfied middle age.

In 1989, Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron) is a high-school basketball star with a bright future until he discovers that his girlfriend is pregnant. You know the rest of the story: They marry young, and reality beats down youthful vigor, turning fresh-faced Zac into an older, sour, embittered Mike (Matthew Perry, who, it must be noted, does not in any way seem like a former high-school athlete).

Mike's wife (Leslie Mann) has booted him out from their house; she's understandably sick of being blamed for his failures. Mike's teenage children (Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight) seem oblivious to his influence. Mike's stuck in a nowhere job, living with his Geek-to-the-Max best friend (Thomas Lennon, whose role is more annoying than amusing). But when a magical janitor grants Mike his wish to be young again, he gets a chance to make a difference in everybody's lives.

17 Again rests largely on Efron's shoulders, and the actor proves convincingly that his screaming High School Musical fans are not overboard in their admiration. He dances a bit, shoots some hoops and even throws out a very Perry grimace or two (if only he could have channeled a little more of Perry's trademark wisecracking).

Mike befriends his son and tries to imbue him with a little confidence, and deliberately sabotages his daughter's relationship with a punk, in one scene delivering a heartfelt plea for abstinence in sex-ed class that has the girls swooning and the boys grumbling. 17 Again is not afraid to engage in some less-than-strictly-wholesome fun: Young Mike still loves Scarlett, and she's attracted to the boy who resembles her husband back in the day while simultaneously being horrified by the cougary aspects of her feelings. And eventually Mike's daughter realizes the guy trying to lure her from the bad boy is, you know, really cute, which leads to a few extremely awkward moments.

There's never any doubt what the film's lesson will be -- appreciate the good things you have -- but 17 Again is so much fun it makes the sentiment worth repeating.

Cast: Zac Efron, Leslie Mann, Matthew Perry, Thomas Lennon.

Director: Burr Steers.

Screenwriter: Jason Filardi.

Producers: Jennifer Gibgot, Adam Shankman.

A New Line release. Running time: 102 minutes. Language, some sexual material, teen partying. Playing at area theaters.

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