Oh, the in-flight movie. Having no more reading material, a dead mp3 player, and no alternative source of entertainment for the 6 hour flight, I sighed and prepared myself for the film that was not of my choosing. It turned out to be 17 Again. 17 Again is the story of Mike O’Donnell (Zac Efron) who in 1989 decided to not pursue his future in basketball and instead marry the love of his life, Scarlett (Leslie Mann). Cut to the present, and Mike is a miserable businessman played by Matthew Perry. The filmmakers go to great lengths convincing the audience this is the same character by including a subtitle naming the character and year so that the audience doesn’t get confused. I’ll admit that the next fifteen minutes or so of the film leading up to the actual plot are a bit fuzzy in my mind due to the distracting casting of the main character. How does someone who looks like Zac Efron grow into Matthew Perry in 20 years? I began imagining some kind of car accident in which his entire head became crushed to the point that the very shape of his skull had altered permanently. This must be the real reason that Mike is so miserable with his life as an adult. He suffered some kind of traumatic accident which resulted in Matthew Perry. To makes things worse, the end credits show the actors at high school age and a 17 year old Matthew Perry still looks nothing like Zac Efron.
The rest of the story is that Mike is on the verge of a divorce and his kids hate him and somehow a random old man creates a spiraling vortex in the water which Mike falls into and emerges as a 17 year old version of himself.
Before I get too far ahead of myself, I need to mention that this was another issue I had with the plot. Obviously this is a mix of other films like Big, 13 Going On 30, The Family Man, and even a little Freaky Friday. I guess in order to distinguish it from the others, they chose to have the events that cause “the change” be a bit more visual: hence, Mike falls off a bridge into a spiraling vortex of magic water. The very next scene is Mike going back to his home where he lives with his nerdy rich friend Ned (Thomas Lennon). How did he survive the fall? The whole reason that he even got out of his car was to prevent a man from committing suicide, so clearly the fall was meant to be fatal. Also, why didn’t he realize that something was different about his body on the drive home? He must have swam out of the water, climbed up the hill, gotten back to where he left his car on the bridge and drove home, still not realizing that he was in a different body. That's a lot to buy. I suppose he also never once checked his rear view mirrors, so on top of everything else, he's a bad driver. Anyway, he and his friend get into a stupid fight using all of his friends’ Star Wars memorabilia and he ends up deciding to help his family by enrolling in his kids’ school and living life as a 17 year old. Amazingly only Scarlett seems to notice that he looks a lot like her husband, but the best reaction she can give is “weird.” That’s quite an understatement. I could only imagine how much time could have been saved in this film if she just looked at her old year book or any other photo of her husband (pre-accident). When she finally does, at the end, it becomes so obvious to her. Even Ned couldn’t recognize his friend (of 20 years!) until he looked at a picture of him in high school.
To be fair, this isn’t the worst movie ever. But what it is, is alarmingly unoriginal with a painfully obvious plot. Nearly everything in the film is lifted from another movie. Even the subplot of his daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg) becoming attracted to him is tired, as it’s basically stealing one of the conflicts from Back to the Future. But in Back to the Future, his mother liked her not-yet-born son. There was no way she could know that they were related or that he would eventually become her child. In this, we’re supposed to buy that the daughter has never once even seen an image of her father before the accident. How could she not know what he looked like when he was younger? There must be no pictures of him anywhere in their house. I was hoping for more of a development with his daughter's obvious (and serious) daddy issues, but the story seems to just drop this little subplot before it got anymore disturbing than it already was. There’s also this whole other subplot with Ned falling in love with the school principle, but it’s mostly forgettable.
What 17 Again really is, is a vehicle to show off Zac Efron’s beauty. The plot is recycled from many other (better) films, and its cute little love story is packed with clichés (there's even a court room declaration of love). But it does have Zac Efron. There's nothing particularly remarkable about his acting ability, but the film doesn’t seem to need that. All that’s necessary is for him to stand around and look pretty. Just look at the poster for the film or watch the first five minutes which includes a shirtless and sweaty Zac Efron playing basketball. So there it is. As far as being a Zac Efron display, this film accomplishes its goal above and beyond. I think the director (Bur Steers) was so caught up with him that he didn’t realize that the script makes him grow into Matthew Perry. Given the choice between this and any of the other films that it takes plot points from, go with the latter.