Zac Efron, get your agent on the phone. He just can’t seem to catch you a break or at least find some consistency.
After proving himself to be the absolute least annoying thing to come from the blasé and repetitive High School Musical trilogy, Efron seems to be having a rough time finding his footing. While the teen female demographic only wants to hear him sing or see him strut around with his shirt off, the rest of us don’t mind him at all in anything else. While his new venture may seem to think that dumber is better, he’s the only thing watchable in Charlie St. Cloud.
When he was cast as the teenage version of Matthew Perry in 17 Again, he was up for the high school shenanigans and proved a good pairing to costar Thomas Lennon. Returning to work with 17 Again director Burr Steers, even the trailers can’t prepare you for the startling revelations of idiocy that abound here. Working with such an incohesive and moronic script that meanders from wearing its heart on its sleeve to bashing the audience over the head to make them cry, it’s not surprising that the script comes from two writers with very different oeuvres.
First you have screenwriter Craig Pearce who has only the classics Moulin Rouge!, Romeo + Juliet, and Strictly Ballroom on his resumé. Next you have the weeping willow department of cowriter Lewis Colick who’s brought us such offerings as Ladder 49, October Sky, Ghosts of Mississippi, and The Dirt Bike Kid. It almost makes you wonder if Pearce’s original screenplay wasn’t sappy enough to fit the British Columbian filming locations and the studio brought in Colick to “flesh out” the heartache of Ben Sherwood’s novel, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, to make the wombs in the room throb as the genre demands.
Charlie St. Cloud (Efron) certainly has everything going for him. He’s just been handed a Stanford scholarship and while fresh out of high school he still finds time to be father figure to his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) while their single mother (Kim Basinger) is off working double shifts and is one of the best yachters in the region. But all that goes sour when Charlie tries to sneak out to a kegger and gets caught by Sam who demands to be driven to a friend’s house to watch the end of a Boston Red Sox game. On this fateful journey the two are in a traffic accident and Charlie winds up being brought back to life by paramedic Florio Ferrente (Ray Liotta).
Five years later we find Charlie working as a groundskeeper at the cemetery where his brother is buried but the film makes no secret that he sees dead people. In case you’re female and not crying yet, Charlie made a promise to Sam, you see – every night at sunset Charlie meets with Sam to play catch for one hour before sundown. But wouldn’t ya just know it, Charlie has “met cute” a girl he was oblivious to in high school named Tess (Amanda Crew) who is an up and coming sailor herself and is being coached by the inexplicably named Tink Weatherbee (Donal Logue) to sail around the world. But Tess sails into the eye of a storm one night against Tink’s better judgment and winds up with a bump on her head atop her father’s headstone in Charlie’s cemetery.
Charlie takes her to his domicile and cleans her up, then forces her to come back for dinner, conveniently after sundown, of course. After getting to know one another enough over a drink or two they play a game of hide and seek in the foggy cemetery (because that’s sexy, ya know) and have one of the longest kissing scenes all for the sake of alluding to sex but still maintaining the almighty PG-13 for ultimate box office receipts.
The next morning Charlie goes into town for coffee and runs into Old Man Ferrente who shows up just to explain to Charlie that he was brought back to life that fateful night for a reason. And if you can’t figure out why Tess’s dog ignores her and what Ferrente is talking about with Charlie, then my condolences.
Everything is played to Lifetime Channel and Hallmark sentiment heights yet somehow Efron manages to stand his ground and never plays his character too overwrought. Director Steers however seems to be more interested in the landscape and there’s at least ten minutes worth of nature footage that could easily have been excised. While it may not have helped the film as a whole, at least it would have help the proceedings move along at a quicker quip. If you’ve ever wondered what it would be like if someone were to combine The Sixth Sense, Ghost Town, Field of Dreams, Ghost, and White Squall with a dash of Dean Koontz’ Odd Thomas novels and a side order of Lost then Charlie St. Cloud just might be your cup of tea.
Photo courtesy Universal Pictures