The people who made 17 Again don't want to waste time reminding the movie's core fans why they're there. So right away, we see a shirtless Zac Efron on the basketball court, practicing his moves, radiating an innocent musk, his smoothly muscled torso seemingly gleaming with not sweat dew. The camera not only loves the 21-year-old actor but laps him; it wants to wring the moisture from his socks and drink it. Few female stars of Hollywood's golden age received the luminous, slow-motion, soft-focus devotion Efron gets here. The idea is to stir the audience, and not just the young girls, to a collective rapturous sigh. (See pictures of Efron's career.)
17 Again the film is a body-swap comedy about a sour guy in his 30s (Matthew Perry) who gets to inhabit his cool teenage self (Efron) could be the title of the young star's career. As basketball stud and dance master Troy Bolton, he headlined three editions of Disney's High School Musical: two wildly popular TV specials and a movie version that earned $251 million at the world box office. He also co-starred in the hit film Hairspray, a savvier, '60s high school musical.
And though he's now of legal drinking age, Efron is 17 again. Not that it's a stretch for him to play someone four years younger. He still has the mop top, the downy skin and the sensuous sanctity of the boy every mother wants her daughter to bring home if he weren't dating his dimpled co-star from High School Musical, Vanessa Hudgens. He could be the perfect perpetual adolescent. It's as if everyone wants him to be 17 forever. (See pictures of famous couples.)
Everyone but Efron, that is. By now he's restless with being the pinup boy on Brownies' bedroom walls. He's turned down a remake of Footloose, the '80s high school musical, to free up time for more mature films. "I'm ready for new challenges," Efron told Cindy Pearlman of the Chicago Sun-Times. "I want to act and do serious roles." (He's already made an indie film, Richard Linklater's Me and Orson Welles, in which he plays a struggling actor who's ... 17.) But how to make the transition? Does he carry the tweens into their teens? Try appealing to an older crowd, as he did with his adroit hosting of Saturday Night Live this month? Decisions, decisions ... that only a dreamboat du jour has to worry about. (Read "How Zac Efron Became the Cutest Guy Ever.")
Boy to Man to Boy
In 1989, Mike O'Donnell is his high school's star point guard. (It is the persistent delusion of Efron movies that a 5-ft. 9-in. white kid would be coveted by college scouts for the basketball team, not the drama department.) As the big game begins, Mike learns from his girlfriend Scarlet that she is pregnant. Stunned, he leaves the court, feeling his duty is his destiny. Flash-forward 20 years and the cheers have faded. Mike (Perry) has lost his job; Scarlet (Leslie Mann) has told him she wants a divorce; his teenage kids, son Alex (Sterling Knight) and daughter Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg), have no time for their clueless dad. If he could just go back to his glory years, what would he do to make his adult life better?