Welcome to Uninformed Review
A weekly feature where I review a movie, book, or television program that I have not seen and know little about, save for what I can deduce from the title and personnel.
“17 Again” starring Zac Efron and Matthew Perry
At first glance, “17 Again” appears to be a classic, light-hearted, switching places comedy, in the mold of “Freaky Friday,” “Trading Places,” or “The Talented Mr. Ripley.” These movies usually involve two people who, disenchanted with their lot in life, wish or pray that they could switch places, only to learn that the grass isn’t always greener on the other side, and the aliens are allergic to water.
Viewers hoping for a family comedy will be sorely disappointed by this movie, however. Director Burr Steers, who was involved with “Reservoir Dogs” and “Pulp Fiction,” turns the familiar convention on its head, resulting in a dark Oedipal drama. The movie is compelling, and not without adrenaline pumping action.
Zac Efron stars as a 17 year old fed up with his highly structured life. Between high school and his parents, he feels smothered, and yearns for the freedom of adulthood. Matthew Perry stars as Efron’s father. In his youth he was carefree and dreamed of traveling the world, but the hard realities of adult life have left him a crushed, soulless shell of his former self. Trapped in a loveless marriage (Leslie Mann), and a dead-end job, Perry immerses himself in the bitter nostalgia of a once promising life diluted into mundanity. One night, after both man and boy return from particularly brutal days, they decide, separately, to take their lives, and thereby end their suffering. To that end both retrieve handguns from hiding places in their rooms. Both raise the weapons to their heads. A close up split screen reveals their haunted faces. Simultaneously whispered: “I wish things had been different…” As the screen fades to black, the audience hears the sounds of the guns fired as one.
Efron and Perry awake. But what’s this? No wound, no injury. They look into the mirrors in their respective rooms. The Efron character has become Perry, and Perry, Efron. After initial amazement, a bumbling first day ensues, including a hilarious scene where “Efron” (played now by Perry) must avoid the advances of his own mother. Eww! Haha! A montage of the two enjoying their newfound lives ensues. “Efron” becomes the coolest kid in school, while “Perry” enjoys the freedom to ditch work and test drive sports cars. Eventually however, Efron-as-Perry learns that adulthood, while great, is no substitute for just being himself. Upon learning this lesson, he confronts Perry-as-Efron, suggesting they now switch back, having learned their lessons. But Perry-as-Efron resists. He enjoys his newfound youth. He is banging Efron’s cheerleader girlfriend (Allison Miller).
Fearing he might be forced to return to his bitter adult life, he stages a confrontation between Efron-as-Perry and the cheerleader, where Efron-as-Perry confesses his secret, professes undying love, and grabs her as she attempts to flee. Unbeknownst to Efron-as-Perry, Perry-as-Efron has alerted Dateline NBC. They secretly videotape the encounter and Chris Hansen confronts Efron-as-Perry, resulting in the arrest and conviction of Efron-as-Perry. As he is led off to serve his 10 year sentence, he swears revenge on his traitorous father. “I’m going to take his face…Off.”
Ten years pass. Perry-as-Efron is living the good life as a 27-year-old playboy. After a decade of hard-partying, he has largely forgotten his son. But his son hasn’t forgotten… In an epic conclusion, Efron-as-Perry tracks his father down to the Greek Isles, where a final confrontation in the underground labyrinths of Mycenae awaits. Without giving away the ending, I will say the battle involves slow motion martial arts, many, many doves, and a scene where a hysterical Efron-as-Perry loses his hand and screams at Perry-as-Efron “You’re not my father!” The battle concludes as both men aim their pistols, the same pistols that initiated the body switch, and, jumping through the air, fire the guns in a manner that curves the bullets. In slow motion.
Bottom line: This is a dark, but important movie, that has a lot to say about our culture’s fixation on youth and the rejection of responsibility. I heartily recommend it. Not recommended for children or date-night, however.