Charlie St. Cloud (United States, 2010)July 29, 2010
I'm not a Zac Efron hater; I thought he did a solid job in Me and Orson Welles, a film that showcased his ability to act when given the opportunity. However, in Charlie St. Cloud (as in his previous outing for director Burr Steers, 17 Again), Zefron is used exclusively as a chick magnet. Or, to put it another way, his name on the marquee is designed to fill theater seats with young girls. He does his part, looking soulful as he gazes into the distance before removing his shirt and doing something manly. One wonders whether Efron has been studying at the Taylor Lautner School of Acting.
It's not much of a spoiler to reveal that Charlie St. Cloud involves the supernatural. Whether the Dead People represent ghosts, figments of Charlie's imagination, or psychic projections is never made clear, but I don't think we're supposed to think deeply about such things. A central problem with the premise is the lack of "rules." Ghost stories and other tales of the supernatural need to show consistency, otherwise anything goes. Even though Charlie St. Cloud is based on a novel by Ben Sherwood, it provides the impression that the filmmakers are making things up as they go along, and a lot of those things don't make sense. But Steers and his screenwriters aren't aiming for logic; they're leading up to the next opportunity for Efron to remove his shirt.
The narrative, which clumsily incorporates elements of Ghost, The Sixth Sense, and Field of Dreams into a total mess, takes place in the Pacific Northwest (it was actually filmed in British Columbia, but I believe the intended setting is the United States). Charlie (Efron), having graduated from high school, is looking forward to his final summer at home before heading off to college on a sailing scholarship. He and his younger brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), have a good relationship, although Charlie sometimes chafes at having to babysit for the 11-year old. Then the unthinkable happens. Charlie and Sam are involved in a brutal car accident that kills them both. A paramedic (Ray Liotta) is able to revive Charlie, but Sam is D.O.A. Charlie, however, having been to the other side, is able to see dead people, including his brother, with whom he plays catch in the woods every day for five years. Charlie becomes something of a recluse. His mother (Kim Basinger) moves away and Charlie begins working as the caretaker at the cemetery where his brother is buried. His daily highlight remains the hour every evening that he spends in Sam's company, at least until he starts flirting with Tess (Amanda Crew), a local girl who is making plans to sail her boat around the world.
The screenplay for Charlie St. Cloud is so full of cheats and inconsistencies that they pour from the screen. One doesn't need 3-D for this sort of in-your-face exercise. I recently praised Chris Nolan's Inception for demanding viewer concentration. Charlie St. Cloud requires the opposite. The less attentive one is, the more likely the movie will pay dividends. The "twist" is transparent unless you spend half the movie in the lavatory. In that case, it may be surprising (although it still doesn't make sense, and no attempt is made to explain things). However, although the idea of spending a portion of Charlie St. Cloud's running time reading the graffiti in a rest room has its appeal, I wouldn't recommend it. You might miss one of those occasions when Zac Efron doffs his shirt.
Despite spending more of the movie posing than acting, Efron generates a little chemistry with his female co-star, Amanda Crew. Crew's character, Tess, is infinitely more interesting than Charlie, but since she lacks box office drawing power, she ends up doing the sorts of things that female co-starts do in sappy romantic movies. She does not, however, spend time staring soulfully into space and she most definitely does not take off her shirt and strut around topless. Charlie Tahan, the young actor playing Sam, is nails-on-the-blackboard awful. The worst part is, even when his character is dead, he continues to annoy. Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta have small parts. The most interesting thing about Liotta is that, even though he's not playing a lunatic bad guy, you keep waiting for him to start frothing at the mouth. Basinger looks bedraggled and bored.
Charlie St. Cloud will almost certainly appeal to its core demographic and absolutely no one else. It's a little like Sex and the City 2 in that regard. The Efron fans in the audience cooed appreciatively every time he stared soulfully into the distance and shrieked orgasmically every time he removed his shirt. That, I suppose, is how it should be. I just wish I hadn't wasted 105 minutes of my time to confirm it.
Charlie St. Cloud (United States, 2010)
Cast: Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Donal Logue, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta
Screenplay: Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, based on The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood
Cinematography: Enrique Chediak
Music: Rolfe Kent
U.S. Distributor: Universal Pictures