Rated PG-13 for language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene and some sensuality, 99 minutes
Handsome Efron can't infuse life in the flat "Charlie St. Cloud"
Zac Efron can see dead people. If you've seen the trailers for his new film "Charlie St. Cloud" you might quickly come to that conclusion, though it's not a horror film and in no way a sequel to "The Sixth Sense." Efron's confusing new film is part coming-of-age-drama, part romance, part letting go and wholly uninteresting. "Charlie St. Cloud," in spite of Efron's wholesome appeal, lacks the depth and strong emotional core to resonate with audiences.
Charlie St. Cloud (Efron) is a young man graduating high school with a bright future. He's a star scholar, athlete and caring older brother to Sam (Charlie Tahan), but his life comes apart when he and Sam are in an automobile accident, Sam is killed and Charlie himself is brought back to life. He is overcome by grief at the death of Sam, so much so that he puts his college plans on hold and takes a job as caretaker of the cemetery in which his brother is buried. Charlie has the ability to see Sam and meets up with him every night to play catch and talk, keeping his promise to Sam before the accident. Then Tess (Amanda Crew) comes into Charlie's life and he’s forced to choose between keeping his promise to Sam, or going after the girl he loves.
The vacuous, uneven "Charlie St. Cloud," based on Ben Sherwood's 2004 best seller "The Life and Death of Charlie St. Cloud," is only memorable for the fact that it'll further establish the likable, becoming Efron as one of Hollywood's hottest young stars. "Charlie St. Cloud" isn’t a terrible film, but it needs two things: a better script to translate some of Sherwood's more complex ideas of life and death, and a stronger actor than Efron to communicate those ideas. There’s no denying that Efron is a handsome, magnetic force, whose performance here consists of poses, grins, a few well-placed tears (Ben Affleck, anyone?) and of course the obligatory shirtless scene, but an actor of emotional depth he’s not.
"Charlie" starts out well as its intriguing premise unfolds, but it stumbles midway through; its muddled romance subplot not only rings false but it never makes much sense, either. For what it's worth, Crew is a lovely Canadian actress with Jennifer Love Hewitt overtones, but her role is underdeveloped and significantly changed from the novel. The film works slightly better when it focuses on the brothers’ relationship and the playful chemistry between Efron and Tahan, though it’s secondary to the romance.
Blink and you'll miss some decent, considerably underused actors in Oscar-winner Kim Basinger (a scant, minutes-only role), Ray Liotta, playing a softie this time in just a couple of scenes, and James Franco's younger brother Dave, as one of Charlie's high school buddies, whose wide smile makes a brief but lasting impression. "Charlie St. Cloud's" best asset is the beautiful Canadian scenery that stands in for Massachusetts, where the film is set.
"Charlie St. Cloud" isn't successful in establishing a strong emotional connection, with a predictable, unsatisfying conclusion (seriously, if you were a twenty-something male, what would you choose, the gorgeous girl or playing ball with your dead brother?) that raises more questions than it answers. All of it feels a little watered down, but the camera does love Efron, and as bland, eye candy entertainment goes "Charlie St. Cloud" succeeds grandly. On any other level, don't expect much.