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…