Zac Efron is still taking classes in his latest vehicle, flashing his pearly whites and killer abs at every opportunity and even participating in an incongruous High School Musical-style dance routine.
The difference in 17 Again, a Freaky Friday-like comedy from Igby Goes Down director Burr Steers, is he’s really thirtysomething schlub Matthew Perry, miraculously rejuvenated as his 17-year-old self on the eve of his divorce from teenage sweetheart Leslie Mann.
Re-enroling at his old alma mater, Matthew/Zac is soon bonding with his bullied son, falling foul of his daughter’s bad-egg boyfriend and making “super-inappropriate” advances at his oblivious spouse.
Second time around, will he finally get that basketball scholarship he spurned 20 years ago to be with his up-the-duff girlfriend, even if it means deserting his family?
Every teen heartthrob has to grow up sometime. But you can’t help feeling Efron’s trying to do it too fast in a strained comedy that asks too much of its fresh-faced lead.
The scenes where he makes a play for Mann are more than a tad creepy, as are the ones where he has to fend off his own offspring (Michelle Trachtenberg). An early joke about erectile dysfunction, meanwhile, feels super-inappropriate given the kid-friendly rating.
Throw in a very unfunny running gag involving Perry’s Star Wars-obsessed best friend (Thomas Lennon) and his stalker-like pursuit of high school principal Melora Hardin and you have a strangely off-kilter affair distinctly lacking Big’s innocent charm.
Moreover, while Efron’s fan-base will no doubt swoon at his every utterance, the uninitiated are just as likely to find his smug air of self-satisfaction – modeled, one suspects, more on Perry’s Friends character than his fleeting appearance elsewhere in the story – both overbearing and obnoxious.
Small wonder the movie’s most amusing scene involves him being struck repeatedly; more than once, you may feel like slapping him yourself…
A body-swap comedy that’s more icky than funny. While Zac Efron’s tween fanbase will lap it up, older punters will likely spend the film wondering what on earth happened to Perry and Steers’ careers…