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17 Again (2009)
Warner Home Video
Blu-ray Disc Released: 8/11/2009
All Rating out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 8/11/2009
Have we reached the point where we stop asking for originality from movies? Do we simply sit down to watch a film and say, "OK, I don't expect anything new here, so give me what you've got."? Or, is it a generational thing? Does Hollywood assume that viewers of a certain age aren't familiar with certain films, so they won't know that they are watching a re-tread? I don't know the answers to those questions, but I do know that it's rare to find a groundbreaking movie these days, and many seem to be carbon-copies of other movies. But, does that imply that just because a movie doesn't have a new thought in its head that it can't be entertaining? Let's explore that notion with 17 Again.
17 Again opens in 1989 where we meet high school basketball star Mike O'Donnell (Zac Efron). Zac's coach (Jim Gaffigan) has informed him that a college scout will be at tonight's big game. Just before the game, Mike's girlfriend, Scarlett (Allison Miller), informs Mike that she is pregnant. Mike leaves the game, forgoing his college basketball dream, and asks Scarlett to marry him. The story then jumps ahead 20 years. Mike (now played by Matthew Perry) is a pharmaceutical rep and he and Scarlett (now played by Leslie Mann) are getting a divorce. His two kids, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight) think he's lame. He has been forced to move in with his best friend from high school, Ned (Thomas Lennon), an eccentric internet millionaire who loves science-fiction and fantasy. Mike stops by the high school to pick up his kids and he meets a janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) who talks to Mike about living in the past. That night, Mike sees the same janitor about to leap from a bridge. Rushing to aid the man, Mike falls from the bridge and into the water. He emerges as his 17 year old self (Efron again). Convinced that he's been giving a chance to right the wrongs in his life, Mike enrolls in high school, determined to make the basketball thing work this time. But, being in that environment makes him quickly realize that he doesn't know his own children. Befriending Alex, he's able to see Scarlett and begins to view her, and his life, in a new light.
For anyone over 30, the plot of 17 Again most likely sounds very familiar. The late 80s saw a trend of "age-switching" films like Big (1988), Vice Versa (1988), Like Father, Like Son (1987), and 18 Again! (1988). Those last three show a younger person and an older person swapping bodies, a la Freaky Friday. 17 Again is actually closer to something like Big or13 Going on 30, as it shows a character who is suddenly a different age and must adjust to this change. The bottom line is that 17 Again features story ideas which have been done many times in the past. We get all of the expected plot devices which go along with this sub-genre. We see Mike have to find appropriate clothing; we see him have to change his name in order to "fool" everyone; we see him rope a friend into the charade; we see him pretend to not know the important people in his life, etc. Of course, there's a bit of It's a Wonderful Life sprinkled in as well. For the most part, there isn't anything original happening in 17 Again.
But, the movie is still a winner for several reasons, most of which have to do with the cast. It's ironic that Thomas Lennon plays a cop on Reno: 911!, as he should be arrested for stealing this movie. Despite the fact that his character is a direct rip-off of the John Lovitz character from Benchwarmers, he is hilarious here. Ned's nerdy, rich character makes no pretenses about who he is, and every moment that he is on-screen is priceless. The scenes in which he attempts to woo Principal Masterson (Melora Hardin) feel as if they came from a different movie, as they have an insane tone. Then we have Zac Efron. I typically don't like pretty-boy actors as I feel that they skate by on their looks. But, there is something inherently likable about Efron and he is at ease here and working hard to keep up with the older actors. Although, not unlike John Travolta, Efron appears to be obligated to dance in every movie. Also, it's great to see Matthew Perry working again.
I also admire 17 Again for the semi-mature nature of its subject matter. I'm sure that many audience members went into this movie expecting something light and breezy, but from the outset, it's clear that the movie isn't going in that direction. I certainly didn't expect teen pregnancy to rare its ugly head in the first scene. From there, we get the plot of a middle-aged man who is simply ready to give up. Sure, there's plenty of Zac Efron and silliness in the movie, but I have a feeling that many teeny-boppers left disappointed. The irony is that adults will find much more to love in 17 Again. The plot may be super stale, but that doesn't keep the film from being funny and somewhat moving. I want to watch 17 Again again.
17 Again speaks elvish on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of Warner Home Video. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the Disc contains a VC-1 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 20 Mbps. The image is very sharp and clear, showing only mild grain and no defects from the source material. The colors are very good and the image is never overly dark or bright. The level of detail and crispness are both OK. For a Blu-ray Disc, the transfer is good, but not great. The Disc features a Dolby TrueHD 5.1 audio track which runs at 48 kHz and an average of 1.9 Mbps. The track delivers clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good, most notably during crowd scenes. The surround sound really kicks in during the basketball games and a thunderstorm scene. The thunder also provides some momentary subwoofer. The in-film music sounds very good.
The 17 Again Blu-ray Disc features several extras. "Zac Goes Back" (13 minutes) is a pretty standard making-of featurette which features comments from the cast and filmmakers. The actors talk about their characters and what it was like to work with one another, while the director and producers discuss the casting and production. There's a nice amount of on-set footage. "Going Back to 17" (3 minutes) has the cast discussing their high-school years and their views on high school. The "Way Cool Tell-All Trivia Track" offers pop-up factoids about the movie and some other random information. "Breakin' Character Outtakes" is a 3-minute gag reel. "Zac's Dance Flashback" (2 minutes) focuses on a scene which was cut from the finished film in which Efron does 80s dances. The Disc contains 13 ADDITIONAL SCENES which run about 16 minutes. There are some funny moments here and the scenes come from all sections of the movie.
Warner Home Video has also brought 17 Again to DVD. The DVD contains both the widescreen and full-screen versions of the film. For the purposes of this review, only the widescreen version was viewed. The film has been letterboxed at 2.35:1 and the transfer is enhanced for 16 x 9 TVs. The image is fairly sharp and clear, but there is definitely visible grain here -- much moreso than was evident on the Blu-ray Disc. The image is also noticeably darker -- the action is always visible, but the darker look robs the image of its crispness. The colors are notably good though. The DVD carries a Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track which provides clear dialogue and sound effects. The stereo effects are good and work well during the basketball game scenes. The scene with the storm shows off some nice surround sound. The in-film music sounds fine.
There are no extra features at all on the 17 Again DVD.
Review Copyright 2009 by Mike Long