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Efron dazzles with boyish charm in ‘17 Again’

It seems Zac Efron, star of the recently released box office leader “17 Again,” may be stuck in the high school basketball player stereotype for a bit longer.
But not forever.
Although the movie seems to be a rehashing of the classic “getting-a-second-chance-at-life-realizing-what-I-have-is-enough” plot, “17 Again” is a welcome change from the sometimes lackluster storytelling.
With a cast including Matthew Perry (“Friends”), Michelle Trachtenberg (“EuroTrip”) and Leslie Mann (“Knocked Up”), as well as Disney’s golden boy himself, “17 Again” shines in a genre full of dim comedies.
As a high school basketball star in the ‘80s, Mike O’Donnell (Efron) has a bright future as a college ball player on the night of the big tournament game. However, when his high school sweetheart Scarlett (Mann) drops the pregnancy bomb on him just before the big game, O’Donnell’s life becomes nothing like the dreams he had.
Fast forward 20 years to the present to find a grown up O’Donnell (Perry) stuck in a dead end job at a pharmaceutical company with a pending divorce and two kids who can’t stand him. Add in the fact he is living with his high school friend Ned Freedman (Thomas Lennon), a wealthy computer genius, and O’Donnell starts feeling like life couldn’t possibly have turned out any more different than he had hoped for.
After an interesting encounter with a mysterious school janitor from his alma mater, O’Donnell admits, that if given the chance, he would do things differently the second time around.
That night, as he drives home in the rain, he sees the same janitor standing on a bridge about to jump. Running to his aid, O’Donnell falls head over heels into the second chance he had been wishing for.
Waking up the next day, a now 17-year-old O’Donnell heads back to where it all began to go downhill for him – high school.
While there, he gets a chance to witness the hell that is his children’s school life. With his daughter dating the bully basketball star who constantly picks on his son, O’Donnell can’t seem to step out of the role of “dad” around his kids.
As the movie progresses, O’Donnell begins to see what this second chance actually was meant to show him and works to regain the life he once had.
While the movie includes the stereotypical teen party scenes, high school drama and weird romantic involvements of a campy teen movie, director Burr Steers takes a fresh look at the classic story.
For the most part, the acting is solid, with some genuinely funny moments from all actors. Efron may have proved he does have a career outside the protective Disney bubble with his performance in the movie, especially during a few of the film’s final moments.
Perhaps his dropping out of the “Footloose” remake was the perfect career move for him.
However, Ned was the show stealer, by far. Acting as O’Donnell’s father, his interaction with the school’s principal is so perfectly awkward, you can’t help but feel embarrassed for the poor guy when he says things like, “I think our hands just made a baby.”
A wonderfully funny fight scene between Efron and Lennon using Ned’s nerdy movie memorabilia sticks out as one of the movie’s most memorable moments. Re-enacting some of the famous Jedi duels of Star Wars fame definitely adds to the movie’s humorous appeal.
The chemistry on screen is impressive. Efron and Mann have plenty of awkward “you look just like my ex-husband as a teenager” moments that are not only believable, but incredibly endearing.
Knowing full well something like this could never happen in reality, you can’t help but want everything to work out in the end for the two of them.
While I don’t expect there are any Oscar nods in its near future, the movie definitely has potential to fall in the ranks of those feel good movies we all know and love.
With a cast full of some well-known stars, as well as some up and coming ones, “17 Again” is sure to be one of this season’s most charmingly funny second-chance stories.
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