You know those movies that look like they’re going to be really insipid
and then completely surprise you? 17 Again isn’t one of those.

Made for an audience who wouldn’t know Peggy Sue Got Married or Back to
the Future
if they accidentally ended up in their Bit Torrent downloads, 17
is a movie whose laziness is extraordinary, a film whose lack of
effort stultifies. A movie like this doesn’t need to add anything new
to the canon – like I said, the audience for whom it’s made will have
no clue that it’s essentially ripping off other, better movies – but it
should at least have something to make it feel interesting, special,
unique or moderately diverting.

The laziness begins in the set up, which has a Magic Janitor turning
Chandler from Friends into that metrosexual kid from High School
. See, Chandler’s wife has left him and his kids have come to
hate him, and he regrets the last 20 years of his life (he walked off
the court during The Big Basketball Game because his girlfriend just
told him she was pregnant and he wanted to be with her. This could not
wait an hour, I guess. It isn’t like she was having the baby right
then). After an It’s a Wonderful Life rip-off bridge encounter,
Chandler has the chance to ‘live it all again,’ which is what he told
the Magic Janitor he wanted. It’s standard magic movie bullshit –
you’re a lazy, bad screenwriter and think the idea of a 35 year old guy
in the body of 17 year old kid in high school today is a good idea, but
you’re too stupid and hacky to actually figure out a way to make that
happen. You fire up Final Draft, choose Shitty Movie Templates and
there you have The Magic Movie (see many Jim Carrey films, Click, etc).
There’s no set up needed, you just insert Magic Person, grant a wish,
have main character learn a simplistic lesson, earn 100 million at the
box office.

I wouldn’t mind the perfunctory, boring set up if something interesting
happened once Perry became Efron, but nothing does. There’s nothing new
here, and in fact I would say that this movie – with a few minor
references changed and with one YouTube joke deleted – could have been
written in 1983. Hell, maybe it’s been sitting in a drawer since then;
the movie seems to have no feel for what makes teenagers teenagers
today, instead relying on trite and half-sketched cliches. And there’s
nothing interesting in what Efron does in high school; he immediately
decides he’s there to help his kids through some really mundane
problems (his son is a nerd! His daughter is dating a jerk!).

Efron’s fine. I’ve never actually seen him in anything before and I was
surprised by his presence and charisma. He has nothing to do, though,
except in a couple of scenes where he’s supposed to be acting all
dad-like but really comes across like a teenage preacher. Still, he’s
amiable enough, and there’s no denying that the camera loves this kid.
If he can actually become an actor (and I don’t see why he couldn’t at
least be the kind of actor who passes for good in major Hollywood
movies), he’s going to be more than just a teenybopper fad. He’s the
real deal.

Supporting him is Thomas Lennon, apparently seing the economic crisis
coming and further padding his bank account that must already be
stuffed from junk like The Pacifier and Night at the Museum (1 and 2).
Lennon’s so much better than this movie (do you think he and Ben Garant
took a script polish swipe at it? Possibly, but it didn’t help. The
script is shit), and so much better than the very five years ago nerd
jokes that are all he gets to deliver. He wears elf ears! Wacky! The
most interesting thing about the character at the beginning was that he
seemed to be gay for Matthew Perry, but that goes out the window
quickly when Lennon falls in love with the high school principal. I
truly hope the house payments were worth it.

Leslie Mann is actually the only person to come out of the movie
unscathed (except Magic Janitor Brian Doyle-Murray. But it’s Brian
Doyle-Murray. He can’t be scathed). It’s like she’s making another
movie, one where other characters have dimensions, and where there’s
more than surface level platitudes with which to come away. At the
opposite end of the spectrum is Michelle Trachtenberg, who is
apocalyptically bad as the daughter dating a jerk before falling in
love with Calvin Klein. Or whatever fake name Efron’s character uses to
go back to school. She’s done no favors by the script, which mostly has
her standing around in the backgrounds of shots, making out with some
dude (the 5 foot 8 captain of the basketball team), but when she does
get something to do it’s cringeworthy. Except for the scene where she
essentially tries to rape Efron; that bit was okay, but for all the
wrong reasons.

In the end you know exactly where this movie is going from the opening
scene. There were so many more interesting places to take this film,
none of which would have required much work on the part of screenwriter
Jason Filardi, genius behind Bringing Down the House. Director Burr
Steers could have… well, he couldn’t have done anything differently.
His first film, Igby Goes Down, is horrible. 17 Again, while atrocious,
didn’t make me want to kill myself, a thought that crossed my mind once
or twice during Igby. So I guess Steers did the best he could.

The worst thing about magic movies like 17 Again is that they’re reassurances for douchebags. The problems of the people in these movies are always the same trite ones – they don’t appreciate their lives enough, they want something different. Every time they learn that what they have is great. At the end of the movie these idiots, who are horrible to their families, who are miserable losers trapped in death-colored suburban lives, get the reassurance that they’re not really empty inside. False. These movies are lying to you. It’s too late. The emptiness you feel when you look at the two kids and your house and your boring job with good benefits? It’s real. You fucked up. You took the wrong path. And there’s no Magic Janitor. And your kids are still going to hate you, no matter how you try (and fail) change tomorrow. You already ruined it, douchebag.

4 out of 10