Remember the late '80s? Back when there was a glut of movies about middle-aged people suddenly becoming young again? A simpler time when Vice Versa, Like Father, Like Son, and 18 Again! all played in theaters? Well the main character in Burr Steers' 17 Again sure does, and he really wants to go back to it.
The main character, 37-year-old Mike O'Donnell (Matthew Perry) is having an incredibly bad day. After learning he's been passed over for promotion, and listening to his wife, Scarlet (Leslie Mann), say that he needs to just sign their divorce papers already, he tries to lift his spirits by visiting the high school where he was a basketball star 20 years before. During a conversation with a mysterious janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray), Mike confesses that he'd like to be 17 again and have a do-over on the last two decades of his life. Later that night, Mike falls off a bridge and magically turns into his younger self. The newly teen Mike (Zac Efron) promptly enrolls in his old school, where he joins the basketball team, befriends his teenage son (Sterling Knight), mollifies his broken-hearted daughter (Michelle Trachtenberg), and does everything he can to win back his wife's long-evaporated love.
While that setup may sound sturdy enough, director Burr Steers and screenwriter Jason Filardi fumble the execution -- they never appear to have asked themselves who this movie was for. Will adults go see a movie about a guy having a midlife crisis if it's set in high school? Will tween girls (the demographic that most wants to see Zac Efron in anything) be ready for a plotline about a girl who gets dumped because she won't have sex? The jokes are too stupid for adults, and the material is too mature for kids.
That leaves teenage ticket buyers as the prime market. But when Young Mike lectures health class about abstaining from sex, or subtly seduces his own wife (she thinks he's her husband's nephew), a typical teen will either laugh at, or be grossed out by, his actions. It's too edgy for the folks who made Adam Sandler's Click a giant hit, and too soft for teens used to Judd Apatow's R-rated comedies. So, 17 Again never figures out what it wants to be, and ends up a jumbled mess that nobody wants.