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Feel-good comedy lost in fraying cliches

YOU'RE required to suspend all disbelief and assume that someone who looks like Zac Efron (pictured left) could, in 20 years, turn into someone who looks like Matthew Perry when you watch the movie ?7 Again.?

Those must have been some rough years ?either that or Rob Lowe wasn't available.

Can't do it, you say? Well, that detail is just about as implausible as the film's premise itself: Mike O'Donnell (Perry), a miserable father of two on the brink of divorce, gets a chance to relive his high school days and improve his future by becoming 17 in the present day, all thanks to the magical powers of a mystical janitor (Brian Doyle-Murray).

It's always some odd figure on the fringe who brings about this kind of fantastic transformation. This guy literally says to Mike: "I bet you wish you had it to do all over again.?

There are a lot of elements in ?7 Again?that feel awfully familiar. Director Burr Steers, a long way from his darkly comic debut "Igby Goes Down,?takes you to places you've been before ?many times ?in more charming movies like "Big,??3 Going on 30,?"Freaky Friday?and even "Back to the Future.?

The idea of going back to high school is so overdone, there was even an entire episode of "Family Guy?that parodied it.

But rather than changing his decision to abandon dreams of basketball stardom and marry the pregnant girlfriend, Mike realizes his true purpose is to reconnect with his wife, Scarlet (played as an adult by Leslie Mann), and teenage kids Maggie and Alex (Michelle Trachtenberg and Sterling Knight). The result is facile and feel-good, not engaging or insightful.

Efron maintains the dreamy presence that made the tweens scream in the "High School Musical?series which is on full display when Mike-as-adult-as-kid gets a makeover from the K-Fed get-up he initially dons in a feeble attempt at fitting in.

He steps out of a Porsche, purchased by his nerdy childhood best friend who grew up to make it big as a computer geek and with his aviator sunglasses and devil-may-care shag haircut, he looks like ... well, he looks like Zac Efron. At least Steers knows how to capitalize on his star's strongest attributes.

Efron also enjoys a couple of amusing scenes as a grown-up delivering uptight diatribes in a boy's body and connects with Mann in a way that surprisingly isn't all that creepy.

It certainly doesn't help his cause that he's been given such a cliched depiction of high school life. The jocks, the nerds, the awkward cafeteria moments ?they're all there, with nothing new to give them fresh life.


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