Why, Zac, Why?!
By Roxana Hadadi
In Zac Efron’s latest film, “Charlie St. Cloud,” the actor proves that he’s really, really good at crying. For viewers, though, the film is more worthy of a disgusted grimace than any emotional tears.
An adaptation of the 2004 novel “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud” by Ben Sherwood, “Charlie St. Cloud” makes all the mistakes a film version of a book can make: The timeline is modified, the ending is changed to please audiences and the characters are stripped of development – and as a result, Sherwood’s messages about life, love and the meaning of both are whittled down to little more than tired clichés. For all the film’s talk of second chances and never giving up, the film collapses on itself midway through, completely veering away from the novel and ending up in one of those unbelievably cheery places where everyone’s smiling so much it hurts.
Is that to say happy movies aren’t worth seeing? Not at all, but a movie this blunt and overbearing certainly isn’t.
“Charlie St. Cloud” begins by introducing us to Charlie (Efron), a recent high school graduate from the wrong side of the tracks who is on his way to Stanford University on a sailing scholarship. His father left the family years ago, so it’s just him, his mother Louise (Kim Basinger) and his little brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), an 11-year-old who basically idolizes Charlie. Though the two spar as all brothers do, they have an especially close relationship due to their father’s abandonment – and before Charlie goes for college, he promise to practice baseball with Sam, a major Red Sox fan, for an hour every day until the end of the summer.
But all of Charlie’s plans are derailed when Sam catches him sneaking out to attend a party, and tags along for a ride to his friend’s place while Charlie hangs out with his fellow graduates. A drunk driver plowing into their car kills Sam, and the only thing that saves Charlie is Florio Ferrente (Ray Liotta), a pendant-of-St. Jude-kissing EMT who refuses to give up hope on the teenager. Brought back to life but traumatized by his brother’s death, five years later Charlie has deferred from Stanford, stopped sailing and is working as the local cemetery’s caretaker – an occupation aided by the fact that he can now see ghosts. At sunset every day, he goes to a special place in the forest where he plays baseball with Sam, who has stayed on Earth and refused to go on (presumably to Heaven) because of the promise he and Charlie shared.
Charlie isn’t completely alone, though: His closest friend, coworker Alistair (Augustus Prew), often has his back, and at his urging, Charlie goes out to a local bar – where he promptly shocks everyone by punching an obnoxious rich kid in the face (you know he has money because he’s wearing a pink oxford). That night, Charlie catches the eye of Tess (Amanda Crew), a girl he went to high school with who is now attempting to sail around the world. The two begin a relationship over the course of a few days, but when he has to keep leaving her at sunset to see Sam, she walks away from their budding romance – and Charlie realizes he has to choose between lingering in the past or going forward with his life.
The worst part of the film isn’t Efron, who does his best to brood accordingly, or Tahan, who is hilarious when delivering snarky insults. Instead, it’s the self-serious tone: Lines like “There’s no such thing as a lost cause” and “There’s gotta be a reason God gave you a second chance” (both delivered by Florio, Liotta’s character) are delivered with total intensity, which only underlines how trite they are. And the lack of subtlety is especially infuriating when the film doesn’t even allow the viewer to figure out anything on their own: For example, when Alistair asks Charlie, “We going back or are we moving on?” it’s obvious he’s not talking about sailing, so why even frame it in that way?
If director Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down”) gave the audience more credit and didn’t hit them over the head as much with obvious ideas about forgiveness and redemption, perhaps “Charlie St. Cloud” would be more of a tolerable experience. But aside from that, it’s not necessarily appropriate for Efron-obsessed tweens or young teens, either. Though it’s rated PG-13, the car crash where Sam dies is pretty brutal, and there are numerous ghosts floating around who all passed away in variously depressing ways. There’s also some cursing and sexual content, including one scene where it’s implied that Charlie and Tess have sex and wake up nude in each other’s arms.
It’s reported that Efron turned down starring in the remake of “Footloose” to star in “Charlie St. Cloud,” and if so, he certainly made a mistake. Perhaps that movie could have displayed the singing and dancing skills he honed during years of “High School Musical,” while this one just shows us that he looks good when tan and shirtless. What else happens in the rest of “Charlie St. Cloud” is just not worth your time.
Roxana Hadadi last reviewed “Ramona and Beezus.”
Feel like staying home? “Clash of the Titans” is out on DVD this week.