April 17, 2009 at 1:00 am

Tom Long Film Review: '17 Again' -- GRADE: C+

Zac Efron charms his way through lightweight '17 Again'

Zac Efron easily carries "17 Again." (NewLine Cinema)

Old people wish they were young again; young people can't wait to grow up. It's one of life's indelible truths and the source of cinematic fantasies ranging from "Big" to "Freaky Friday."

And since those movies made money, here's "17 Again." This time it's the old person getting younger, even though the movie is obviously aimed at young people since it stars Zac Efron of "High School Musical" fame.

Efron plays Mike O'Donnell, at 17. We first meet him in 1989 as he's about to win a big basketball scholarship. But he finds out his girlfriend Scarlett is pregnant, so he walks away from his dreams and into a life of responsibilities.

Flash forward and we meet Mike (Matthew Perry) at age 37. He and Scarlett (Leslie Mann) are getting a divorce, his troubled kids (Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight) won't even talk to him and he's living with his nerdy friend Ned (Thomas Lennon).

And then suddenly he turns 17. There's a janitor involved, but it doesn't matter; it's magic and Mike is 17.

Cue the sudden-shock jokes. Cue the getting to know his own family jokes. Cue the back to high school and basketball and girlfriend jokes.

Hey, but they're OK jokes. A whiff of incest, a couple of cougar mentions, all the standard stuff is here because it's proven formula.

Efron effortlessly carries the movie, and yes, it's lightweight stuff, but the kid has real charm.

Every generation has its "Big." and this isn't it, or at least let's hope not. It lacks the texture, the romance, the actual mortal pain of that film.

But it's a minor league knockoff starring a talented kid that makes for harmless entertainment. It could be better, it could be worse. Instead it's "17 Again" -- passable fluff.

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