WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Proving that everything “old” can be new again 17 Again opens in 1989 where star basketball player Mike O’Donnell turns his back on a college scholarship deciding instead to marry his girlfriend Scarlet when she reveals they are suddenly expecting a baby. Cut to 20 years later Mike’s marriage and job are floundering when he is physically transformed back into his 17-year-old self although his mind and sensibilities still remain that of a decidedly square thirtysomething dude. With the help of his nerdy-turned-billionaire best childhood buddy Ned he gets himself enrolled in the same school his own teenage kids now attend. Can he help them avert the same kinds of mistakes now that he (sorta) has a second chance to change?
WHO’S IN IT?
Zac Efron (High School Musical) shoots and scores in a breakout starring role. He shows he’s got the comic chops to believably pull off the way-out-there premise of being a 37-year-old trapped in a 17-year-old’s body. Matthew Perry (Friends) does a nice job bookending the movie as the older Mike but it’s Efron’s show all the way. Thomas Lennon follows up his hilarious supporting antics as the spurned man-date in I Love You Man with some equally amusing work as Mike’s friend Ned while Leslie Mann plays the estranged wife in style. As Mike’s kids who unknowingly become high school buds with their own father newcomer Sterling Knight and Michelle Trachtenberg get enough screen time to shine. Melora Hardin (The Office) is also quite funny as the school principal that lovelorn Ned keeps stalking.
Although the premise of the adult/kid switcheroo has been done to death director Burr Steers and writer Jason Filardi take it one step further a la It's a Wonderful Life or Damn Yankees by letting their main character regain his youth for the chance to see what his life would be like if he could live it another way. This fanciful premise makes this “teen” comedy one that adults will probably enjoy even more.
The filmmakers sometimes have a tendency to go over the top particularly in the "Star Wars fight sequence" when the newly transformed Mike confronts old friend Ned with the news and a laser battle erupts (!). Another scene where 17-year-old Mike is seduced by his own unwitting daughter may be funny but it veers a little too far into creepy territory.
DOES THIS SOUND FAMILIAR?
If you like 17 Again try renting 18 Again in which 81-year-old George Burns switches places with his grandson. Or how about Big Vice Versa Like Father Like Son or either version of Freaky Friday? And who said there are no original ideas in Hollywood ...
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX?
A no-brainer — the "Zac Pack" will be out in force on opening day.
Set in the ‘60s and based on a true story we meet Petey Greene (Don Cheadle) a popular radio DJ--in prison. When he’s pardoned early Petey hits up one of his inmate friend's brother Dewey Hughes (Chiwetel Ejiofor) a radio station manager for work. In fact Petey marches right down to Hughes' D.C. radio station and keeps harassing Hughes until he gets his shot. Petey chokes the first time on air and makes libelous remarks that don't sit well with the station boss (Martin Sheen). But controversy sells so Petey and Dewey scheme to give Petey a show. When his show on Martin Luther King Jr's assassination calms down a rioting public even the corporate brass sees his value. Greene rises to local fame but still gets himself into trouble with booze and promiscuity. Will his talent overcome his vices? Not likely. Unfortunately the film’s self-importance simply masks a story about a self-destructive loser who lucks into some notoriety. For all its superiority Talk to Me still manages to wring out some Oscar-worthy performances. There is no shortage of juicy characters for acclaimed thespians to exercise their muscles. As is his modus operandi Don Cheadle transforms into Petey Greene as much as he did as Hotel Rwanda’s Paul Rusesabagina. You'd never imagine he had a better vocabulary to use he is that much of a foul mouthed low life. Chiwetel Ejiofor (Children of Men) is also phenomenal. His good guy Dewey is the less showy part but he projects so much power. Dewey deserves the success Petey wastes. Taraji P. Henson (Hustle & Flow) plays Petey's girlfriend a composite of all the women the real-life Greene must have screwed over. She's devastatingly sexy flaunting her wares to attract more attention to Petey yet still heartbreaking when Greene does the inevitable. Martin Sheen never plays the "white boss." He's just a human being with practical worries but he still puts his neck on the line to support social change. Cedric the Entertainer plays a more established DJ at the station. It’s a very small role with only a few scenes but he puts that deep voice to good use on the airwaves. It is clear co-writer/director Kasi Lemmons thinks the Petey Greene story is an important one to tell but she fails to fully convey his true impact if there was any. He wasn’t the only black man on the radio in the '60s to follow Martin Luther King’s call for peace. Greene’s lengthy radio rants in Talk to Me are powerful and poignant but it's all overshadowed by his deplorable behavior off the air. Lemmons gets the period details down however. Everyone looks distinctly groovy and landmark events put together on a small budget still give a sense of the era. But by mostly containing the film’s world to a radio station Talk to Me seems more like a melodrama between a producer and a star than a biopic about a man who propagated social change.