I gave 17 Again high praise when it came to theaters, mainly because I was so surprised by how enjoyable Zac Efron was. In seeing the film on DVD it's still a light-hearted twist on Big and has a ton to love, but the flaws stand out a bit more. While my views have changed in the meantime that's no reason to deny yourself 90 minutes of pure escapism in this “What If” film.
Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) is set to lose his wife and children to divorce and neglect, respectively. When he is glossed over for a promotion and loses his job he starts to pine about the good old days of high school, and how different things would have been had he gone to college. When a mysterious janitor grants his wish, Mike is transformed into his 17-year-old self (Zac Efron) and is given a second chance to set things right.
Having seen the film a second time it's easier to sit back and enjoy the comedy. The premise is bland and has been done before, so where the movie is forced to excel is with the characters and jokes. There's a lot of different types of humor including slapstick, pratfalls, and some rather quippy one-liners (who knew the word “peacocking” would enter into the lexicon). The actors all do a wonderful job with their roles but this is the film where Zac Efron proves his salt. He's not playing a sugarcoated Disney character and is forced to play a teenager and an adult. Efron does well with all the comedy and some of his expressions are hilarious on their own, namely when looking at his daughter make out with someone. The boy is able to move beyond his pretty boy image and this is a fabulous jumping off point. Thomas Lennon turns in a side-splitting performance as Mike's nerdy friend and his interactions with Mike are the strongest parts of his character. In fact any character that is near Mike, played by Efron, turns out better than on their own.
I was able to notice the big flaws I missed the first time and they are present and accounted for. The movie has all the side characters of Mike's wife and children, but they are the flattest castmembers in the whole movie. Mann has several scenes with Efron but on her own she just seems mopey and bland. Mike's kids, played by Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachentberg are practically cardboard cutouts and don't bring anything to the table. The love story between Ned, Mike's friend, and the school principal played by Melora Hardin come off the worst this time around. The whole relationship is silly and cliche and beyond out of place. It doesn't help that quite a bit of time is devoted to those two and they never bring the same performances as Efron. While Efron effortlessly slips into Matthew Perry's shoes, Perry himself comes off like a total jerk. He constantly mopes about marrying his girlfriend in high school, a girlfriend he got pregnant, and seems to be rehashing his Chandler days. To make matters worse his character is the uber-stereotypical workaholic father that seems to be in nowadays. The movie also never makes mention of the two teenagers having a child and marrying after high school. There's one line of dialogue about how regretful the whole situation is and it's glossed over. This is particularly disturbing since the whole premise is about Mike giving up college to marry a girl he knocked up, and this film is catered to the number one demographic of unplanned pregnancy. Getting off the soapbox it just seems like it's a hollow plotpoint when it could have been a bit more.
The special features on the standard DVD are non-existent which is always sad. On the Blu-Ray there are deleted scenes, outtakes, featurettes, and a full audio commentary. It's surprising that there are not a few of these on the DVD at all considering how many people have not made the switch. I can only recommend if you're a hardcore fan of this movie or can rent it on Blu-Ray, take the plunge but it's not worth paying to buy the Blu-Ray.
17 Again is far better than expected and Zac Efron proves he's more than a pretty face. The premise is tried and true, and stumbles in parts but it's solid. You never feel like time is passing you by with this one. The movie gets a 3/5 and the DVD gets a 1/5 for lack of features.