17 Again (2009)

Starring: Zac Efron, Thomas Lennon, Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann, Sterling Knight, Michelle Trachtenberg

Directed by: Burr Steers

Rating: 1 2 3 4

Zac Efron as Mike O'Donnell in 17 Again

In 1989, Mike O'Donnell's life was sweet. Young, devastatingly good-looking, captain of the basketball team with a college scholarship practically in the bag, his future was so bright he had to wear shades. Until his gorgeous girlfriend drops the bomb (the usual one). Fast forward seventeen years and he's stuck in a dead end job, with two sulky kids who refuse to acknowledge his existence and a soon-to-be ex-wife who's kicking him out for blaming her for the sad slump his life has slid into. Oh, and he's turned into Chandler from Friends.

At first, young Mike found dressing young tricky...Zac Efron in 17 Again

But when a mysterious old janitor offers him the chance to relive his golden years and he accidentally falls off a bridge (oh c'mon, since when has the changeover mechanism behind a body swap movie ever been anything other than lame?) he suddenly finds himself… seventeen again. But his initial ideas of  finally achieving his teenage dreams are quickly rejected as he realises the true purpose of his transformation: to help his kids navigate their way through the pitfalls of high school, and win back his wife once more. Schmaltzy? Well, yes, it is a bit, but mainly this high-spirited cross between 21 Jump Street, Freaky Friday and Back to the Future is enormously, hilariously entertaining.

Mainly this is due to Zac Efron, who carries the whole film effortlessly on his young shoulders. As flawlessly handsome as Johnny was at that age (oh, and still is…) he not only radiates warmth and charisma, but is also a very fine comic actor, perfectly capturing Matthew Perry's trademark Chandler-esque mix of wit and pomposity and vying with Jamie Lee Curtis for most convincing 'trapped in the wrong body' performance ever. C'mon, casting directors, let's see Zac hang up the school uniform and stretch himself next time, because there's so much more to this teen idol than white teeth, cheeky blue eyes and mean basketball skills.

Zac Efron, Thomas Lennon and friend in 17 Again

However, Efron faces stiff competition from Reno 911's Thomas Lennon as his best friend Ned, the erstwhile geeky high school punch bag, now super-rich IT nerd smitten with his fake son's new head teacher. With his burgeoning collection of Star Wars and Lord of the Rings memorabilia, his life seems far more representative of the thirtysomethings I know than Mike's weary domesticity – but then again I was one of the few people in the cinema who actually knew what it was like to be a teenager in 1989…

Smart, sweet and very funny, this delightful, warm-hearted feelgood film is so charmingly old fashioned it's as if the spirit of a 1980s John Hughes flick woke up in the body of a 2009 teen comedy. But that would just be stupid…

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