Review: Zac Efron's 'Charlie St. Cloud' is swept away on a sea of goo
Since the cinematic oeuvre of Troy Donahue is mostly forgotten to everyone besides camp aficionados of a certain age, it’s unlikely that the target demographic of “Charlie St. Cloud” will sense the shadow of Troy over almost every frame of this would-be tearjerker, which seems clearly designed to vault Zac Efron into non-franchise leading-man territory.
But the shadow of Troy Bolton, the character that Efron played in the mega-successful “High School Musical” trilogy, looms just as much, since “Charlie St. Cloud” confirms that the toothy actor – who has proven to be quite proficient at musicals and light comedy – lacks the gravitas to play a young man haunted by loss and guilt.
Like the working-class characters so often played by Donahue – they were poor, but they had both integrity and great cheekbones – Efron’s Charlie is a proletarian townie in an upper-crust seaside town where sailing is everything. With his scruffy skiff and the assistance of his adoring kid brother Sammy (Charlie Tahan), Charlie becomes captain of the school sailing team and wins the annual regatta over his snotty opponents. (It perhaps represents some kind of non-traditional casting coup that the film’s one arrogant preppy a-hole is also the film’s one African-American character.)
Charlie’s prowess on the water has earned him a scholarship to Stanford, but on the night of his graduation, a drunk driver hits his car, killing both Charlie and Sam. Charlie is brought back to life by a presumably Catholic paramedic (Ray Liotta), while Sam isn’t so lucky. Consumed by guilt, Charlie runs away from Sam’s funeral to go to the woods, where he had promised to meet Sam every day at sunset that summer to throw around a baseball. Sam, having not crossed over to the other side, is there to meet him.
And he keeps that appointment every day for five years. Charlie defers his ambitions, retreats into private grief, works as a groundskeeper at the local cemetery, and becomes the dreamiest, most approachable town weirdo on Earth. When his high-school classmate Tess (Amanda Crew) returns to town, poised to compete in a solo round-the-world sailing race, Charlie flirts with the idea of returning to sailing and to the real world, although the pull of his rendezvous with Sam continues to tug at his conscience.
At this point, “Charlie St. Cloud” takes a plot turn so outlandish that it shouldn’t be spoiled in a movie review. Suffice it to say it involves Charlie’s ability to see and speak to the not-quite-dead. It will also prompt lots of tasteless jokes, but you can make your own once you’ve seen the movie.
Those looking for evidence on how casting can shape an entire film could certainly start here – had director Burr Steers (“Igby Goes Down,” “17 Again”) placed, say, Jesse Eisenberg or Michael Pitt or Joseph Gordon-Levitt in the title role, this could have been a brooding meditation on the inability to let go of a lost loved one. But “Charlie St. Cloud” couldn’t be sunnier – Efron’s Charlie never looks like he’s missed a day of shaving or moisturizing, and Enrique Chediak’s cinematography is bright and swoopy when sailboats are racing and gently autumnal in the forest scenes with Sam.
Perhaps no haunted, grieving character in the history of cinema has had his abs lingered over as much as Efron here – whether he’s getting wet (so that his shirt can cling to his chiseled body) or half-disrobing, the camera can’t get enough of him. Between “Charlie St. Cloud” and “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” it’s a big summer for fans of taut, hairless torsos. (The rest of us can amuse ourselves with the observation that Efron’s hair remains so casually bedhead-y, even when he’s soaking wet.)
If this review dwells more on Efron’s appearance than on his acting, it’s because the movie does, too. The final result of his performance suggests angst far less than it does a photo spread in the newly-revived A&F Quarterly.
The supporting cast doesn’t really pick up the slack, either: Amanda Crew (whose very name suggests casual separates for women) seems to have been cast for her blankness, so that every straight girl and gay boy in the audience can put themselves in her deck shoes when she’s clinching with Efron, and Tahan’s Sammy veers between cutesy and irritating. Liotta gets little to do besides a very on-the-nose “you survived for a reason” speech, and poor Kim Basinger has what amounts to a glorified walk-on as Charlie’s mom.
Zac Efron is young, and there’s certainly no reason why he can’t still blossom into the kind of actor who can handle all kinds of roles. For the time being, however, “Charlie St. Cloud” suggests he stick to quips and kick-ball-changes instead of dramatic heavy lifting.
2013 | Comedy | NRSummary: Insanely funny comedy show created by Amy Schumer, who stars in brilliantly funny sketches about sex, city living, dating, and friendship.Director: Daniel Powell, Amy Schumer (creators)
Cast: Amy Schumer, Kevin Kane, Mike Houston
2007 | Comedy | PGSummary: Newlyweds Nick (Ice Cube) and Suzanne (Long) decide to move to the suburbs to provide a better life for their two kids. But their idea of a dream home is disturbed by a contractor (McGinley) with a bizarre approach to business.Director: Steve Carr
Cast: John C. McGinley, Ice Cube, Nia Long, Aleisha Allen
1995 | Mystery | NRSummary: Denzel Washington plays an out of work WWII vet who takes the wrong job and is soon neck-deep in a mess of politics, murder, and jazz in '40s Los Angeles.Director: Carl Franklin
Cast: Denzel Washington, Tom Sizemore, Jennifer Beals
2013 | Thriller | RSummary: Based on the true story of Daniel Lugo (Mark Wahlberg) a Miami bodybuilder who wants to live the American dream. He would like to have the money that other people have. So he enlists the help of fellow bodybuilder Adrian Doorbal (Anthony Mackie) and ex-convict, Christian bodybuilder Paul Doyle (D...Director: Michael Bay
Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Dwayne Johnson, Anthony Mackie, Tony Shalhoub
1993 | Sports | PGSummary: Emotionally powerful sports classic featuring Sean Astin as a skinny high school kid with big football dreams and the determination to make his way towards his dream team at Notre Dame.Director: David Anspaugh
Cast: Sean Astin, Jon Favreau, Ned Beatty
1996 | Crime | RSummary: Jerry, a small-town Minnesota car salesman is bursting at the seams with debt... but he's got a plan. He's going to hire two thugs to kidnap his wife in a scheme to collect a hefty ransom from his wealthy father-in-law. It's going to be a snap and nobody's going to get hurt... until people start ...Director: Joel Coen, Ethan Coen
Cast: William H. Macy, Frances McDormand, Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare
1997 | Crime | RSummary: Quentin Tarantino adaptats an Elmore Leonard novel into this story of a few increasingly desperate people scraping to get by. It has deep soul, a wicked sense of humor, and Samuel L. Jackson, Robert De Niro, Pam Grier, and Robert Forster.Director: Quentin Tarantino
Cast: Pam Grier, Samuel L. Jackson, Robert Forster
2013 | Drama | RSummary: Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill have boundless energy in the story of a real-life commodities crook who earned millions through scummy small-time stock trades.Director: Martin Scorsese
Cast: Leonardo DiCaprio, Jonah Hill, Margot Robbie
2008 | Science Fiction | PGSummary: Animated series continues the story of Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker as they battle the Emperor Palpatine, Count Dooku and General Grievous, but also takes time to explore other smaller characters in the Star Wars universe.Director: George Lucas (creator)
Cast: Tom Kane, Dee Bradley Baker, Matt Lanter
Let Streaming Genie help you.