The fact that chaste, metrosexual teen idol Zac Efron has been allowed to grow a phallus for his latest role—a 1980s high-school basketball phenom whose girlfriend's unplanned pregnancy derails his hopes of a college scholarship—is the only novel touch to be found in 17 Again, a reverse-engineered Big in which the present-day version of Efron's Mike O'Donnell (played by Matthew Perry) gets a chance to revisit his adolescent glory days in his glorious adolescent body. This isn't the first time that director Burr Steers has plumbed the depths of postpubescent awkwardness on screen. But whereas his 2002 debut feature, the insipid Catcher in the Rye knockoff Igby Goes Down, aimed for arthouse credibility, 17 Again finds Steers embracing his inner sitcom director. The aesthetic crassness is a natural fit for Jason Filardi's screenplay, which fastens together scraps of many a duly forgotten 1980s body-switching comedy with reams of below-grade-level dialogue. All this is but the window dressing, however, for 17 Again's squirm-inducing coup de grace—the teen Mike's courtship of his 30-something soon-to-be ex-wife (Leslie Mann), the smarminess of which is less about the intimations of statutory rape than the humiliating way Mann (in keeping with the movie's generally hateful attitude towards women) is made to prowl around Efron as though he were a fresh piece of loin.
Supply your own locker-room jokes about Efron.
Opens at area theaters, Fri., April 17. Rated PG-13. 102 minutes.