Even before the hero of " 17 Again," Mike O'Donnell, magically morphs from aging grouch ( Matthew Perry) into his springy adolescent self ( Zac Efron), you may feel skeptical. Not about the magical part - that's perfectly normal in movies like "Big" and "Freaky Friday." The question is this: If you possessed the sparkly good looks of Efron to begin with, how grouchy could you be?
Plenty, apparently. In 1989, Mike was the star of Hayden High's basketball team and dating the beautiful Scarlett, whom he would soon marry. Make that really soon: Moments before a big game, while a college scout watches from the bleachers, Scarlett reveals she's in a family way. In a moment of truth, Mike tosses away the ball to do the honorable thing.
Twenty years later, Scarlett ( Leslie Mann) wants a divorce. Mike's children, Maggie ( Michelle Trachtenberg) and the younger Alex (Sterling Knight), want nothing to do with him. Equally depressing: Mike is crashing with Ned (Thomas Lennon), the school nerd who became a rich techie.
Let's be honest, fellas: What would you do if you woke up looking like the star of Disney's "High School Musical"? Probably re-lose your virginity and then some. Instead, Mike befriends his own kids, helping Alex make the basketball team and protecting Maggie from an aggressive boyfriend. Director Burr Steers and writer Jason Filardi take the high road, but a few scenes of base hedonism would have been fun.
Efron, as a teen with the brain of a father, ably carries this featherweight movie; he's particularly sweet when wooing the now-older Scarlett (one of several mildly Freudian constructs here). Mike even tries, unsuccessfully, to convince several girls to respect their bodies. "This is some other dad's problem," he mutters.
Another nagging question: Why didn't Mike just play that big game in 1989, become a professional athlete and make Scarlett a wealthy wife?
Ah, the road not taken.
PLOT An embittered family man is magically transformed into his adolescent self.
CAST Zac Efron, Matthew Perry, Leslie Mann.
PLAYING AT Area theaters.
BOTTOM LINE A familiar but enjoyable fantasy.
RATING PG-13 (mild language and sexual talk)