As you watch 17 Again you might wonder how often a concept like this can possibly work. This certainly isn’t a Romeo & Juliet type template, but it seems that no matter how many times this, or things like it, come along people will watch, and it will be enjoyable… to an extent. Then I realized it’s like the cinematic equivalent of a sitcom – enjoyable but disposable – use once and destroy.
So, yes, you do laugh, because the father does often forget he looks like Zac Efron and not Matthew Perry, and yes there are flaws. For instance almost no one recognizes him as, at the very least, a reincarnation of Mike O’Donell. What does work in this film’s favor are: Zac Efron, who being given a part where he needs to be more than an archetype delivers, and is rather impressive; Dad dialogue being delivered by a twenty-something that sounds funny when it needs to be and heartfelt when it has to be is no easy feat; and the biggest kudos go to Thomas Lennon who played Mike’s friend Ned to perfection. Lennon provided most of the comedy that put the film over the top and also had the most fully realized character. He was a continuation and expansion of his former self.
Suspension of disbelief occasionally becomes difficult with things like the coach not recognizing Mike, and Ned trying to beat Mike up thinking him an intruder for an overly-extended sequence. However, these flaws are counterbalanced with portions of the film which are told visually, especially in the beginning of the film, a decent editing style in certain scenes, and I did feel Burr Steers’ stamp on the dressing down of the bully scene. It was nice to see a glimmer of authorship in a generally formulaic piece.
If you’re looking to for an enjoyable way to kill time this film is as good as any.