In the 1980’s, there was a calling for the good ol’ body switching movies that were pioneered by the likes of the Disney film Freaky Friday. This is one of the underrated ones with the legendary George Burns in his final film along with what should have been a star making turn for Charlie Schlatter.
College freshman David Watson is in misery. He is ridiculed by the fraternity he is pledging. He is busting his butt on the track team with failure. Not to mention he has a major crush on classmate Robin, who just happens to be dating the head of the fraternity he is pledging. His father even gives him a hard time with his business sense of mind. However, the one person who has always been there to help him and the one person who has always understood him is his grandfather, Jack.
However, on Jack’s 81st birthday, where he wishes he can 18 again, fate is about to change these two’s lives. After the birthday party, Jack and David bond in a diner but when Jack is driving, they get into an accident. Jack is left comatose but his soul has entered David’s body. Soon, Jack learns his dream has come true. He has become 18 again and through David, he helps not only David, but himself as well. But what will happen when Jack’s body is set to be taken off of life support at the worst possible time? Will Jack be able to get back to his body and bring his and David’s souls back in their own bodies?
The late George Burns is a true legend in the world of comedy, with his beginnings in vaudeville to his brash and witty comedy in his later years. Not one to stop, Burns made his final film here as the witty Jack Watson, an octogenarian who has had it all but would love to be 18 years old again and finally gets his wish due to unfortunate circumstances. Taking a page from the good ol’ body switch genre, with the likes of Vice Versa (1988) and Like Father, Like Son (1987) being released within a year apart, this came in at the same time. However, while the other two focused on a father and son switching bodies, this one has a man switch with his grandson.
Perhaps the reason why this film works out quite well is because of the meshing between the classic and the modern. While Burns physically spends most of the film lying comatose in a bed, we do hear his voice at times with his sharp wit. The film should have been a star making turn for Charlie Schlatter, who comes off his film debut as Michael J. Fox’s brother in Bright Lights, Big City. Schlatter, as David, really shines once grandpa enters his body, showcasing a knack for wit that Burns himself must have liked. Even the bond between both Burns and Schlatter in their pre and post-switch scenes looks to have great chemistry between the two. However, Schlatter, with the soul of Burns in him, is quite great to watch and makes this film truly underrated.
The film does offer a cliché of stereotypes in terms of teen movies, such as the geeky best friend, the crush who the boy will eventually get, and the bully. Here, the best friend is played by a pre-Weasel Pauly Shore. It makes one wonder why Shore would go from playing it straight here to playing the idiotic “weasel” in 90’s comedies like Encino Man and Son-in-Law. Because he does quite well here as David’s best friend. The girl is played by Jennifer Runyon, who let’s face it, has the tendency to play this role in various TV and films so it’s pretty much typecast. The bully here is frat head Russ, played well by Anthony Starke, who even surprises fan with his martial arts skills in two scenes where he confronts David. One could only wonder what it would have been like if Starke had done a martial arts film. However, he stuck to his guns in comedies when he would later team up with a pre-fame George Clooney in the B-movie gem that is Return of the Killer Tomatoes.
Despite the clichés, 18 Again is truly a fun gem of an 80’s body-switching mode with both George Burns and Charlie Schlatter in both physical and mental (in hearing Burns’ voice) comedy. Truly an underrated film.
WFG RATING: A-
A New World Pictures production. Director: Paul Flaherty. Producer: Walter Coblenz. Writers: Josh Goldstein and Jonathan Prince. Cinematography: Stephen M. Katz. Editing: Danford B. Greene.
Cast: George Burns, Charlie Schlatter, Tony Roberts, Anita Morris, Miriam Flynn, Jennifer Runyon, Red Buttons, George DiCenzo, Bernard Fox, Anthony Starke, Pauly Shore.