What would have happened if, in 1989, basketball jock Mike O’Donnell (Efron) had played in that Big Game, gone to college and decided with his girlfriend to get a rhymes-with-shmashmortion? That’s an interesting scenario, but it’s not the premise of this film, which makes Mike 17 again but keeps him in the present—apparently because transmogrified dads make the best high-school-bully repellent. In 2009, by some cruel trick of biophysics, Zac Efron has become Matthew Perry. After losing a promotion and failing to talk his former sweetheart (Mann) out of a divorce, Mike meets a magic janitor who shows him that, yes, it’s indeed a wonderful life.
What follows amounts to a photonegative of Back to the Future (this time, the daughter crushes on young Dad) pitched at the wit level of an ’80s father-son mind-transfer comedy. (Thomas Lennon’s Elvish-speaking tech guru is the one inspired element.) To be fair, director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) doesn’t shy away from the ick factor of a 17-year-old dancing with his now-much-older wife, and Efron does a credible job of aping Perry’s mannerisms. Between this and his turn in Richard Linklater’s unreleased Me and Orson Welles, there’s evidence that the young heartthrob might make a decent leading man if only he’d apply himself.—Ben Kenigsberg
Opens Fri. .