(director: Burr Steers; screenwriter: Jason Filardi; cinematographer: Tim Suhrstedt; editor: Padraic McKinley; music: Rolfe Kent; cast: Zac Efron (Mike O’Donnell), Leslie Mann (Scarlet, adult), Thomas Lennon (Ned Gold), Michelle Trachtenberg (Maggie), Sterling Knight (Alex), Melora Hardin (Principal Jane Masterson), Brian Doyle-Murray (Janitor), Allison Miller (Scarlet, teenager), Matthew Perry (Mike O’Donnell, adult), Hunter Parrish (Stan), Jim Gaffigan (Coach Murphy), Nicole Sullivan (Naomi); Runtime: 94; MPAA Rating: PG-13; producers: Adam Shankman/Jennifer Gibgot; New Line Cinema/ Warner Brothers Pictures; 2009)

Innocuous eighties like high school fantasy sitcom with no cutting edge.

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Innocuous eighties like high school fantasy sitcom with no cutting edge. Director Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”) steers it down a derivative and banal path, but it’s at least well-constructed; writer Jason Filardi keeps it banal but on message, telling us it’s not about doing life over again but making the best of where you’re at (Dr. Phil would approve such inspirational sentiments!). The less than enlightening message was fine, but the body-swap physical comedy was lame. If squeaky-clean teen heartthrob Zac Efron wasn’t gracing the screen with his golden locks and angelic face, this strained gimmicky comedy would be even less appealing. The 21-year-old Zac, the Disney high school musical idol, delivers his lines without screwing them up and gives a pleasing physical performance, but he still can’t deliver an accomplished performance that gives his character depth.

17 Again opens at a high school basketball game in suburban California, in 1989, with cocky star basketball player Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron) playing in the big game that will get him a college scholarship. But before the start of the game his girlfriend Scarlet (Allison Miller), the hottest chick in the school, is in tears over her pregnancy. Unable to concentrate on basketball, Mike quits the game and chases after his teary-eyed girlfriend, thereby losing his potential scholarship. We pick up some twenty years later and find the 37-year-old Mike (Matthew Perry) married to Scarlet (Leslie Mann) and they are raising a teenager son Alex (Sterling Knight) and a teenager daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg). But life has been a series of disappointments for the once big man on the campus, now a sad-sack. His wife wants a divorce, he’s estranged from his kids and stuck in a deadend sales job that sees him passed over for promotions by lesser people.

Mike has moved in to live in the house of his wealthy dork friend Ned Gold’s (Thomas Lennon), someone of arrested development who invented software to both steal and prevent music from being stolen online. Ned is a weirdo gamer, into collecting light sabres, speaks fluent Tolkienese and stuffs his home with boy toys (a very funny Lennon is the reason for adults to see the film). The film’s preposterous moment has an angelic janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray), with a twinkle in his eye, be a “spirit guide” who leads Mike to be transformed into his teenager self. We now are forced to sit through Mike replaying his high school days in the same school but twenty years later, as he tries to win back his family.

In a subplot, Melora Hardin plays the single high school principal that Lennon obsesses over.

The filmmaker is unable to make anything interesting about this fantasy return to school adventure, as there’s the usual school bullies, nerds vs. jocks, hot chicks, party animals, and big basketball game to deal with. Everything is taken care of in the usual Hollywood clichéd ways, though there’s a cynically obnoxious smutty underlying message tossed into the plot line that tells us that sex can ruin your life if you don’t use condoms (the film might work better as a public service announcement!).