Face it: We've seen this movie before. The storyline's so familiar (Big, anyone?) that it's practically its own genre -- though fine acting from the cast, especially Efron, does help 17 AGAIN rise a bit above the predictability. As the young Mike, Efron is indisputably watchable, emitting charisma from every pore. He's game, too, giving himself over to scenes that could have played tepidly and awkwardly -- Mike the teenager fending off the advances of his own daughter, who's not aware he's her dad, for example -- but generally don't. (Runner-up awards go to Mann and Thomas Lennon as older Mike's proudly nerdy friend Ned Gold.)
But good acting doesn't automatically make for a good movie, and, as directed by Burr Steers (who's helmed such deliciously subversive titles as Weeds, Big Love, and Igby Goes Down), 17 Again lacks edge. Yes, there are jokes about cougars and Lord of the Rings fanatics, but that's small potatoes. And though it's good to see Perry on the big screen again, he's woefully underused. Anyone over 12 or 13 is also likely to roll their eyes at the movie's High School Musical references (the opening, which includes glimpses of a sweat-drenched Efron shooting hoops, practically threatens a song-and-dance number). It's clearly a play for the HSM audience, but it ends up feeling like a cheap -- and unnecessary -- shot. Bottom line? Manage your expectations, and it may end up being worth the popcorn, especially for your teens.