I like Zac Efron. I think the guy’s genuinely talented and unfairly gets a bad wrap. He’s more than likely got a very successful film career ahead of him, full of deep and thought provoking films. Charlie St. Cloud is not one of those films. St. Cloud is, of course, one of Efron’s first forays into straight dramatic fare and unfortunately it’s a bit of a misfire. Films like this come out of Hollywood all the time: great-looking small town star is subject to a tragic event, gets ostracized from said town and becomes great-looking emotionally damaged outcast in whom great-looking female takes an interest, much to great-looking female’s friends and family’s dismay. Charlie St. Cloud is no exception to this cliché and, for the most part, plays like one. My review after the jump.
Reuniting with director Burr Steers (17 Again, which I quite enjoyed), Efron plays high school senior Charlie St. Cloud. He’s the greatest sailor the small New England town has seen in a long time, and he’s poised to accept a sailing scholarship to Stanford. His single mother, played by Kim Basinger in what is more a cameo than a supporting role, works as a nurse and raises him and his younger brother, Sam, on her own. Sam is obsessed with baseball and plays the part of the typical annoying-but-loveable younger brother who pesters Charlie about stealing his mom’s car and not watching baseball with him. Charlie and Sam are in a car accident (which, of course, Charlie blames himself for) and Sam dies.
Fast-forward five years and Charlie is the “town crazy” who hasn’t been on the water since the accident and now works as a groundskeeper at the cemetery where his brother is buried. In a not so subtle similarity to The Sixth Sense, Charlie is able to interact with dead people and plays catch with his dead younger brother every day at sunset. Enter Tess Carroll, the great-looking high school sailing rival of Charlie who is gearing up to sail around the world. She and Charlie exchange flirtations and…well I’ll stop here for fear of spoilers, but if you haven’t figured out the “twist” by 45 minutes in I’ll be shocked.
The script, credited to Craig Pearce (Moulin Rouge!) and Lewis Colick (Ladder 49), is based upon the novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud by Ben Sherwood. It’s painfully predictable and full of cringe-worthy lines, an example being one character who opines about Charlie’s ability to sail past her during a race, “That guy’s just too good!” The film seems cookie-cutter prepared by a studio to induce exact emotions at exact moments, right down to the music which swells immediately following the accident as if to scream “CRY NOW!” There are small attempts at humor, including (and I’m not kidding) a nut-shot from a baseball thrown at Charlie, and a tediously unfunny subplot involving ducks.
Efron himself isn’t bad in the film. In fact, his acting may be the saving grace which kept me semi-interested. Amanda Crew as the love-interest and Charlie Tahan as Sam aren’t bad either. Ray Liotta is fine in a borderline-meaningless role, which is also akin to Basinger’s cameo-like screen time. The problem with the film is that it’s entirely too predictable and feels intensely calculated. There’s little sense of independent filmmaking here; it feels tailor-made to appeal to Efron’s High School Musical tween girl fanbase. Steers isn’t a bad director and Efron isn’t a bad actor, this film just didn’t exactly come together as well as it could have. The one positive of Charlie St. Cloud is that it shows that Efron can handle dramatic fare. With this film and his recent role in Richard Linklater’s Me and Orson Welles, hopefully he’s steering his career toward more adult-themed films than the High School Musical teen flicks. He’s too talented an actor to wither away playing a 17-year-old for the next ten years.
The film is presented in Anamorphic Widescreen 2.40:1, with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Special features include deleted scenes with optional director commentary, a feature commentary from the director, a featurette regarding the supernatural element of the film called “The In-Between World”, and two gratuitous behind-the-scenes featurettes highlighting the male lead: “On Location with Zac Efron” and “Zac Efron, Leading Man.”
While Charlie St. Cloud is painfully predictable and palpably calculated, it shows a step in the right direction (tonally, at least) for star Zac Efron. Hopefully he finds the right project to showcase his dramatic aptitude sooner rather than later.