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Blu-ray Review: 17 Again

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Zac Efron is a teen heartthrob.  If one was unaware of Efron's status and the entire High School Musical phenomenon, simply watching the recently released to Blu-ray 17 Again would be enough to bring someone up to speed.  Everything about the movie, from its opening shots to its closing credits, seems deliberately and coolly calculated so as to elicit the maximum number of squeals from teenage girls and to convince those girls' mothers that there is indeed something undeniably "dreamy" about Zac (it's okay, he's 21). 

The film, directed by Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down), opens with a shirtless six-packed Efron all sweaty and shooting hoops and soon after that he gets to dance.  As the film progresses he gets a haircut, cleans himself up, puts on really tight jeans (a fact noted by one of the characters in the film), has girlMatthe Perrys falling all over him, and he even swoons over and hits on a middle-aged woman.

Don't worry about that last bit, it's not disgusting (except that it is), the woman, Scarlett O'Donnell (Leslie Mann), is his soon-to-be ex-wife.  17 Again is a classic body-switch film, with Efron playing teenage Mike O'Donnell to Matthew Perry's adult version. 

Mike was once a teen basketball sensation, destined to get a free ride at college for playing hoops.  It all changed though after he got his girlfriend pregnant and opted to stay with her, foregoing college and his dreams, in order to be with the love of his life and raise his child.  Twenty years later, adult Mike O'Donnell grew to regret that decision so much that his "spirit guide" found him and made him young again.

Mike opts to go back to his old high school – where his two kids are now enrolled – and try to make things better for them.  In the process, he makes things better for himself, realizing that he truly does love Scarlett and that he wants to be with her for the rest of his life.  It's only a little creepy that it's Zac Efron playing a 17-year-old who realizes that he wants to be married to this significantly older woman (even if neither Zac nor his character are actually 17).

Creepiness side, the film is full of excellent supporting roleThomas Lennons including Thomas Lennon as adult Mike's fantasy-obsessed best friend; Melora Hardin as the school principal; Michelle Trachtenberg as Mike's teen daughter, Maggie; and Sterling Knight as Mike's son, Alex.  The standout among these is Lennon, whose Ned Gold is both terribly funny and a little sad in his pursuit of Hardin's principal Masterson.

Body switch films represent an entire sub-genre of comedy, and this one is better than most.  While it never loses its sense of humor, the film, at its core, remains a serious one, and Efron is up to the task of keeping it level.  Efron plays a thirty-something year-old in the body of a 17-year-old perfectly, with great discussions about how serious a thing it is to have sex and an utter amazement at just how in-shape teens are compared to the adults they will turn into.

All is not perfect in the film however, and anyone who has ever seen any of the High School Musical series will instantly get the sense that this film is, in part, trading on the memory of that one.  Efron's character here is a basketball star as his character, Troy Bolton, was in HSM, and breaks out into dance here as he did in HSM.  While the latter makes some sense – if you have someone who can dance that well why would you not have them daZac Efronnce – the former simply feels like the sport was chosen to remind everyone that they loved Efron in that series.  It's an unnecessary tactic as, despite the fact that the film treads no new ground, it is incredibly likable and certainly amusing enough without the allusions.

What doesn't work nearly as well as the film is the menu Warner Bros. chose to put on this Blu-ray release, which also includes a DVD and a digital copy.  All the special features are on the front page of the menu (except for the BD Live special features and alternate audio tracks which are not available from the main menu), and the option to play the actual film only appears in average-sized type down at the very bottom.  The majority of the menu is a list of all the special features, including each and every deleted scene.  Outside of said deleted scenes, the disc contains a brief outtake real and several short featurettes.  They delve into the making of the film, the making of a deleted dance scene, and cast and crew recollections of their own lives at 17.

As for the technical side of the disc, the Dolby TrueHD 5.1 channel audio soundtrack is certainly above average.  It is well-mixed and special effect sounds all play out in crisp, clear fashion.  When the surrounds are engaged – be it during songs, Mike's plunge off a bridge, or any other moment – their use places the audience squarely into the moment rather than taking them out via over-the-top or unnecessary additions.  The video is equally good, with lots of detail, good blacks, and some very nice looking changes in color/lighting on a couple of occasions mid-scene.

17 Again is by no stretch of the imagination a brilliant film, and the romantic side of teen Mike and adult Scarlett's relationship is more than a little uncomfortable, but the movie overcomes these deficits and proves itself an enjoyable experience.  As body switch comedies go, 17 Again, with its ability to mix comedy and drama better than some other films, works well.

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About Josh Lasser

Josh has deftly segued from a life of being pre-med to film school to television production to writing about the media in general. And by 'deftly' he means with agonizing second thoughts and the formation of an ulcer.