Movie Review: Charlie St. Cloud

Despite what many adolescent and adult males may want to believe, Zach Efron is not a bad actor. Is he a flavorless singer? Yes. Has he been in a few lousy movies? Sure. Is he too pretty for his own good? Absolutely. But the kid can act. He showed a little leading-man charm and comedic competence in last year’s fun but forgettable 17 Again (which was also directed by Charlie director, Burr Steers, though the two films are completely dissimilar), and really proved his capabilities opposite Christian McKay in the tiny indie flick, Me and Orson Welles. Unfortunately, Efron’s latest, Charlie St. Cloud, suffers from a script that would make acting by even Matt Damon look like that of Paul Walker (remember him?).

During the summer before Charlie St. Cloud (Zach Efron) is to leave for college – Stanford, where he has earned a sailing scholarship – he promises to spend an hour each day playing baseball with his younger brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), who is depressed about Charlie’s impending departure. During a late night drive, Charlie and Sam are hit by a drunk driver. Charlie flatlines, but is revived; Sam doesn’t make it. Apparently as a result of Charlie’s being momentarily deceased, he now has the ability to see and communicate with the dead.

Charlie skips Stanford, instead opting to work full-time as the caretaker of the cemetery where his brother is buried. He uses his newfound schizophrenia mystic abilities to keep his promise to Sam; they play catch everyday at sundown, rain or shine.

Enter Tess (Amanda Crew), an old high-school acquaintance with whom Charlie begins to bond. Shortly into their friendship, Tess embarks on a three-day sailing trip, a practice-run before her six-month tour-de-earth. Upon Tess’ return, she and Charlie’s relationship blossoms into an intense romance – which makes it difficult for Charlie to keep his promise with Sam.

Until this point, Charlie St. Cloud operates much like one would expect a movie like this to operate. The story is unremarkable and overly sappy, but is, honestly, pretty inoffensive. It’s bad, but not that bad.

Efron is good. He seems to have genuine chemistry with both Crew and Tahan, a bit more with the former than the latter. He and Tahan – as Charlie and Sam, of course – share a few scenes together in which their innocent taunting actually resembles that which may occur between brothers. Efron and Crew make a semi-believable couple; they look good together and work off each other pretty decently.

Unfortunately many, if not most, of this chemistry is grossly overshadowed by the script’s unbearably stiff dialogue and absurd premise. If the summary above wasn’t ridiculous enough to keep you away from this schlock (it really should be), fear not; there is a third-act twist that would make even M. Knight Shaymalan groan.

The bottom line is that this is the type of overly-sentimental, logic-defying garbage that would normally occupy a midweek timeslot on the Lifetime or Hallmark networks. Had it not been for Efron’s presence, Charlie St. Cloud would never have found its way anywhere near the cinema.

Oh yeah, I almost forgot: Ray Liotta appears for about a scene-and-a-half to preach about God’s always having a plan for us, and that Charlie needs to use his living through the car crash to better the world…or something like that.