Like the child protagonist of an earlier, highly acclaimed movie, the eponymous hero of Charlie St. Cloud sees dead people — or, at least in his case, dead people he once knew. For example, he has a long conversation with the ghost of a high-school buddy who enrolled in the military after graduation and was killed in action overseas.
More important, every day at sunset, Charlie (Zac Efron) meets up with his dead little brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) in the woods near the cemetery to chat and throw a baseball around. Charlie has been doing this for five years. An expert sailor, he passed up a scholarship to Stanford in order to keep his promise to Sam, who was killed in a car accident. Charlie was driving.
Based on a novel by Ben Sherwood and constructed as a showcase for Efron’s dramatic talents, the movie is a young man’s journey to overcome the guilt that has paralyzed his life. Charlie is so obsessed with making sure he shows up to meet with Sam that he organizes every day around the designated time, letting the rest of the world go on without him.
He’s reluctant to pursue a relationship with the beautiful Tess (Amanda Crew), who is also an avid boater. His single mother (Kim Basinger, in a cameo) has moved away, apparently unable to shake her son out of his self-torturing state. Even the paramedic (Ray Liotta) who resuscitated Charlie after the accident and bumps into him years later encourages him to shake off the doldrums, because there’s probably a good reason why he survived the crash.
After many scenes of crying and emoting by Efron, who is shot by director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) the way Hitchcock shot Grace Kelly — glamorously and adoringly — a major (although illogical) plot twist arrives that gives the film a much-needed jolt. But by then, the picture is beyond rescue. Efron is clearly talented, and he can shed a single tear on cue in the same uncanny manner Demi Moore did in Ghost. But Charlie St. Cloud is primarily a vehicle to prove the actor can do more than dance and sing. It’s more of a demo reel for Efron than a movie. His predominant fan base, though, won’t mind a bit.
Cast: Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Augustus Prew, Donal Logue, Ray Liotta, Kim Basinger.
Director: Burr Steers.
Screenwriters: Craig Pearce, Lewis Colick. Based on the novel “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud” by Ben Sherwood.
Producers: Michael Fottrell, Marc Platt.
A Universal Pictures release. Running time: 97 minutes. Mild vulgar language, brief sexual situations, adult themes.