| Zac Efron, capitalizing on his Disney-molded popularity among adolescent teenage girls, plays almost a replica of his "High School Musical" character. In the opening scene, he appears shirtless shooting baskets in a high school gym. It is then time for the big game and he dances with the cheerleaders. This flashback occurs in 1989 and Mike O'Donnell (Efron) has a promising future with a likely free ride to college on an athletic scholarship.
His beautiful blonde girlfriend Scarlet delivers news that changes the course of his life forever. Fast forward 20 years to the present day and Matthew Perry from "Friends" fame is the 37-year-old version of Mike.
Mike is depressed and frustrated with his life. He has worked for a pharmaceutical company for the past 16 years and gets passed over for a promotion to be regional sales manager despite his seniority. He rarely finishes projects he starts and blames his failures on his wife Scarlet (Leslie Mann from "Knocked Up"). His marriage is falling apart with a divorce in motion that will become final in a few months.
His two teenage children, Maggie (Michelle Trachtenberg) and Alex (Sterling Knight), think he's a loser and totally tune him out, hardly even giving him the time of day.
Mike moves in with his best friend Ned Gold (Thomas Lennon), who was the nerdy water boy for the basketball team in high school and is now a software-developing billionaire. Mike continuously daydreams and dwells on the past.
At the high school to pick up his kids, Mike admires the team photo from when he was the star point guard, then meets a mysterious janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray) and admits that he yearns for those glory days when he never got the chance to live up to his potential. He wishes that he could be 17 again and have a do-over.
He sees the janitor again on a rainy night standing on a bridge. In an effort to rescue him from a possible suicide, Mike falls into the river and is magically transformed into his 17-year-old self.
This becomes a formulaic retread of other body-switching movies that the target audience is probably too young to have seen. Screenwriter Jason Filardi ("Bringing Down the House") probably watched "It's A Wonderful Life," "Peggy Sue Got Married," "Back to the Future," "Big," "Heaven Can Wait" and "Freaky Friday" to get ideas for the story.
This harmless piece of fluff contains trite and clichéd dialogue and borrows liberally from these better movies, but rather than following the path of the road not taken it turns into an opportunity for fatherly redemption.
Mike gets closer to his immediate family and gains an out-of-body perspective on where he lost his way. He gains a newfound appreciation of his present life.
Lennon steals the movie with an outstanding comedic turn where he courts the school principal (Melora Hardin seen last week in "Hannah Montana The Movie"). They find common ground in their passion for "Lord of the Rings." Mann is terrific as the confused wife showing a wide range of emotions.
Perry has almost a cameo part with very little screen time. He bears no resemblance to Efron and it is a stretch to believe they are the same person. Efron seems to be on autopilot just going through the motions. His charismatic good looks will mesmerize the audience into believing he can act. Besides a priceless smile and a few nifty dance steps, he excels at dribbling and twirling a basketball.
If this movie is on your must-see list, the better alternative is to wait for the DVD release and rent it.
Keith Cohen "The Movie Guy"