It’s exciting to see Shyamalan on such confident footing once more, all these years later.
Here we have it, the third entry in this season’s body-exchange sweepstakes. “18 Again!” begins with the same premise as “Like Father Like Son” and “Vice Versa,” and despite the considerable presence of George Burns, it finishes in a tie for last. It’s an annual cliche at Oscar time that the competition would mean more if the actors had all played the same roles. In the case of these three movies, the race isn’t close: “Vice Versa” wins, and the other two trip over the starting line.
But why, you may ask, am I using so many metaphors from the world of footraces? That’s because “18 Again!” cross-fertilizes two durable genres. Not only do we have an old man and his grandson trading minds and bodies, but we also have one of the most durable endings in the movies, the Big Race.
“18 Again!” even includes a cliche so old I thought it had been retired: the moment when the hero stumbles, falls, picks himself up and keeps right on running. Does he win the race? Are there stars in the sky? “Vice Versa” and “Like Father Like Son” were about a father and son trading places. In recognition of Burns’s age, “18 Again!” has him trading places with a grandson. Tony Roberts plays the generation in between. The story: Burns is the legendary founder of the family firm, which Roberts now runs. Father and son don’t communicate well, maybe because Burns never takes his son’s ideas seriously. But he does have a great love for his grandson.
At Burns’s 81st birthday party, he closes his eyes and makes a wish. He’d like to be 18 again, with all the power and energy he remembers. He opens his eyes and his wish somehow has been granted: He inhabits his grandson’s body, and the grandson (Charlie Schlatter) inhabits his.