Friday, July 30, 2010

"Charlie St. Cloud" a hokey weepy

Charlie St. Cloud (2010)
99 min., rated PG-13.
Grade: C

"Charlie St. Cloud" has all the hallmarks of, say, a three-hanky Hallmark TV special based on a Nicholas Sparks novel, even though it was not written by Sparks. Goldenboy Zac Efron plays Charlie St. Cloud, a Pacific Northwest small-town competitive sailor whose little brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), dies in a car accident. Since Charlie was driving, his grief and guilt are through the roof, so instead of going to Stanford to become a sailing champion, he stays home and works as the groundskeeper at the local cemetery. Even five years after Sam's death, Charlie keeps his little brother alive in spirit by meeting him every day at sunset in the exact same woodsy clearing to play catch (they made a deal). He then finds interest in a high school classmate, Tess (Amanda Crew), also a sailor who has lost a loved one, but the more time he spends with her, the less he can spend with Sam. 

If it sounds like "Field of Dreams," "Message in a Bottle," "The Sixth Sense," "The Lovely Bones," with Zac Efron seeing dead people, that's because it is. "Charlie St. Cloud" is a watchable, handsomely photographed adaptation of Ben Sherwood's novel, with some poignant moments about loss and grief, but it never quite recovers after a groan-inducing second-act twist. The shooting star across the horizon for a character “passing into the light” is quite hokey. 

Efron can act and has pretty blue eyes (and he only doffs his shirt once), but Tahan is more affecting and natural as Sam. Their brotherly dynamic is nicely set up and the tragedy immediately following the accident feels real. Also, Crew is always a fresh, appealing presence and her mild sex scene in a graveyard is handled more tastefully than it sounds. But Ray Liotta's paramedic who resusciated Charlie in the accident is more of a plot device with a talisman that is “the answer” for Charlie. And Kim Basinger is barely there, then never heard from again (besides on a message machine), as the boys' working-class mother. 

Still, the acting fares better than the clumsy writing in Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick's script. Rolfe Kent's derivative violin-heavy music score doesn't help things either by telling us how to feel. Efron fans will be on cloud nine during "Charlie St. Cloud," but for anyone else, just picture a Nicholas Sparks weeper with a high school musical lead and an M. Night Shyamalan twist.

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