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CStC Reviews: Orlando Sentinel, San Fran Chronicle, EW, THR, Rolling Stone, etc.

Orlando Sentinel
Roger Moore

here’s an unfussy confidence to Zac Efron’s acting, a physical ease on camera that doesn’t require mannerisms or tricks. He is slipping the bounds of high school musicals and dramas right before our eyes, and his screen presence is already more adult-masculine than Leonardo DiCaprio’s was at this age.

And if directors choose to shoot him in close-up, well, he can’t help if it he’s pretty.

Charlie St. Cloud ably packages Efron in a teen weeper, a transitional romance that takes the High School Musical star into his 20s, with adult concerns and emotional issues and a romance that accepts adult consequences. But it’s also a gimmicky glop of sentimental, Ghost meets The Sixth Sense. Charlie St. Cloud looses his kid brother, but finds love. If only he could stop playing catch with that kid brother every evening as the sun goes down.

We meet Charlie at his peak — King of the Quincy, Washington small-boat sailors, headed to Stanford on a sailing scholarship. Yeah, Mom (Kim Basinger, under-used) has to work two jobs to keep them going, but Charlie and his somewhat spoiled kid brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) are lucky kids with bright futures.

Then, graduation night — “Kegger at the Point tonight!” — an accident, and Sam is gone. Charlie almost died too, but a devout Catholic paramedic (Ray Liotta) willed him back to life. The only problem? Charlie still sees Sam. And he’s promised the now-dead brother that he’d meet him “at evening cannons” (guns fired at the yacht club at sunset) to play catch and talk Red Sox baseball.

Cut to five years later, everybody else has moved on. But Charlie couldn’t go to college. He works and lives at the cemetery (ewwww), hangs with the morbid wacky Brit gravedigger Alistair (Augustus Prew) and can only gaze in envy as his former sailing rival (Amanda Crew) preps for to be the youngest competitor in an “Around Alone” round-the-world sailboat race.

Tess is interested, but she’s about to hit the high seas. Charlie is interested, but he can’t leave Quincy. Won’t somebody give these lovebirds a break?

Efron, re-teaming with his 17 Again director Burr Steers, plays a nice range of cocky to emotionally crippled here. Crew (The Haunting in Connecticut, Sex Drive) isn’t as subtle as he is, but makes a beguiling enough presence and a moderately credible sailor. The way the two brothers’ relationship stays frozen in time feels right, and there’s plenty of heart here.

But the movie’s central gimmick isn’t enough, and when more supernatural twists that don’t play by the movie’s own fantasy rules kick in, it lost me.

With Charlie St. Cloud, Efron sends the message that he’s more than another pretty face, that he’s got the chops to stick in this business. But if he’s decided these sappy Nicholas Sparks-ish tragic romances are his bread and butter, “taken seriously” status may elude him, and only come grudgingly in the end.

2 out of 4 stars

San Francisco Chronicle
Mick LaSalle

Movies, which are all about the visuals, have a time-honored way of representing virtue — by casting someone beautiful. Beauty is synonymous with goodness onscreen, but the best thing of all is to be beautiful in an interesting way, to have a mind at work and a certain self-possession, to suggest a variety of moods and passions ... which leads us to Zac Efron in "Charlie St. Cloud."

Efron is a very young guy — he's only 22 and probably shot this film when he was 21 — but something in the sculpted geometry of his face and in the old-soul look in his eyes makes him more than a pretty kid. Put that face in close-up and Efron reads as a moral idea, one that has something to do with youthful striving and sensitivity, with meaning well and working hard. Efron gets that much credit just standing there, and then, lo and behold, he can act.

"Charlie St. Cloud" is a delicate film — not flimsy, but fragile — that holds together on the strength of Efron's physical presence and performance. It tells a story about love and loss and the beatings that life and time inflict on poor, suffering humanity. Last year's "17 Again," which Efron made for the same director, Burr Steers, was like a workout for this film: It dealt with similar issues and concerns, but operated with the safety hatch of comedy.

"Charlie St. Cloud" has no safety hatch. It just offers the real stuff — heartbreak, exultation, metaphysical mystery — under no cover of self-protective cynicism. It dares to be corny, but isn't. It dares to cross the frontier from painful to so-painful-it's funny, but it never does. All this has a lot to do with Steers' command of tone and of the good taste of the screenplay, based on a novel by Ben Sherwood. But none of this would matter without an actor at the center who, simply in his screen essence, embodies the right qualities of humanity, gravity and aspiration.

The film begins the way some movies end, with the climax of an exciting boat race. Charlie, though from a working-class background, is a natural aristocrat, with a gift for boating and a breezy, winning manner. The movie takes pains to establish his relationship with his 11-year-old brother (Charlie Tahan), and in the movie's first minutes, we tend to see Charlie through the younger brother's eyes, as infinitely capable, glamorous and glory bound.

The reversal of fortune comes with brutal suddenness. Every other review, I'm sure, will tell you what that reversal is — don't read them. Suffice it to say that it's the kind of blow that would challenge anyone's emotional capacity to recover, and the audience is made to feel it. Fifteen minutes into the film, Charlie has lost his ambition, and his life has taken a mystical turn.

Amanda Crew plays a young woman from the same town, who has held onto her boating dreams and is planning a solo run around the world. But if you're expecting the usual thing — the girlfriend who brings our hero back to life — this movie has more integrity and sophistication than that. In Crews, it also finds an ideal co-star for Efron, one who is as strikingly intelligent as he is strikingly pretty. By becoming the object of Charlie's interest, she confirms our faith in Charlie's seriousness and probity.

Four out of five stars

Entertainment Weekly
Owen Gleiberman

Zac Efron may be the prettiest young actor in movies today — he's like a preppy update of Shaun Cassidy in his teen-dream prime — but he also demonstrates that looks will get you only so far. As the title golden boy of Charlie St. Cloud, Efron plays a small-town competitive sailor whose beloved little brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), gets killed in a car crash. (Charlie was at the wheel.) It doesn't take long to figure out that Charlie dies too — at least in spirit. Instead of heading off to Stanford to realize his dream of becoming a sailing champion, he stays home, going to work at the local graveyard. He's so ruled by guilt and despair that he imagines he's talking to ghosts — like that of his late brother, whom he ''keeps alive'' by meeting him every day at the exact same clearing in the woods to play baseball.

The surreal thing is, Zac Efron can't do despair. He plays it by staring. Blankly. And by not smiling. Blankly. Those sky blue eyes of his may be moody, but in Charlie St. Cloud they have only one mood — a fake-profound, lost-idol tranquillity. Instead of making you weep, he puts you in a coma. Charlie St. Cloud is as wholesome as a Miley Cyrus movie, only without the energy. It's like the religio-kitsch version of a TV tragedy-of-the-week. Charlie starts to hang out with a girl tailor-made for him (Amanda Crew, who's like a text-generation Anne Hathaway), but he can't be with her until he lets go of the past and says goodbye to his ghosts. Efron, you can tell, is trying to get beyond his past, but one or two more movies like this one and High School Musical 4 will be beckoning.


The Hollywood Reporter
Kirk Honeycutt

Bottom Line: An unstable mix of youth romance, metaphysical idealism and tropes that seemingly belong in a horror film.
Every now and then a brave filmmaker can't resist the temptation of making a metaphysical film that somehow will manage to portray everlasting love on the screen, that will somehow show a romantic idealism so great that it transcends even the boundaries between the living and dead. This is a temptation filmmakers need seriously to resist. "Charlie St. Cloud," from director Burr Steers, who made the estimable "Igby Goes Down," is the latest to take on this foolhardy task and the film doesn't just fail, it actually gets sillier by the minute. There is little worse in movies than earnestness hitched to the wrong project.

Press notes claim the source material, a novel by Ben Sherwood, received sufficient acclaimed to get translated into 15 languages so perhaps there are enough worldwide romantics to create a modest cult following around "Charlie St. Cloud." It happened with "Somewhere in Time" (1980) and "What Dreams May Come" (1998), admittedly much different kinds of movies and much grander in their pretensions and earnestness. But the guess here is that "Charlie," more modest but therefore less cult-ready, doesn't stand a chance.

One problem -- there are many but let's focus on this -- is that the metaphysical rules keep changing. Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) is a small-town sailing hero of whom great things are expected. Yet he loses all ambition after an auto accident, which he "miraculously" survives but kills his kid brother Sam (Charlie Tahan). Afterwards, to quote from another film, Charlie sees dead people.

Or does he?

For the next five years, he plays catch with Sam every evening at sunset in the woods near the cemetery. He chats with a high-school buddy, killed as a marine in the Middle East, near his gravestone. Then, later in the film, he sees another dead person who, well ... turns out, isn't really dead. So are these spectral appearances real or dreams? Only writers Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick know for sure.

Charlie's obsessive love for his late brother has caused him to turn down a university scholarship and take a job as live-in caretaker at the cemetery. He seemingly has no friends other than a fellow groundskeeper (Augustus Prew), yet the film treat this oddness as nothing more than someone marching to the (up)beat of a different drummer.

When Charlie and Sam play in a rainstorm, Rolfe Kent's music cheers them on and the editing of this montage is snappy and happy. Silly comedy is made of Charlie and his cemetery mate trying unsuccessfully to chase away the geese that inhabit the grounds but make their jobs more difficult. Charlie even meets a cute girl tending her father's grave. Isn't life just peachy here in the cemetery?

In other words, there is nothing weird or creepy about a guy obsessed with a dead brother. Any more than there is when the paramedic (Ray Liotta), who rescued and miraculously revived Charlie, suddenly reappears in his life with terminal cancer and the message that Charlie was saved for "a reason."

Speaking of sudden reappearances, an old high-school classmate named Tess (Amanda Crew) abruptly appears on Charlie's radar. Where has she been for five years? Never mind, she is the one person in this small seacoast town, presumably Oregon but actually British Columbia, who doesn't think Charlie is a nut job. Must be because she is a fellow sailor. Indeed she is about to embark on a major international solo race. Despite her departure in a week, Charlie is torn between Sam the Dead and Tess the Living.

Things do get sillier but to explain would involve spoilers. Let's just say that the last movie character who had storms and atmospheric electrical charges to guide him to his destiny was played by Charlton Heston.

Efron portrays Charlie as your average young movie-star hunk. He takes off his shirt frequently, yet looks ungainly and stilted in his beefcake poses. Tahan and Crew are much more natural although the same can't be said for Liotta and Kim Basinger in the thankless role of Charlie's mostly off-screen mother.

Credits in this Universal-produced movie are studio slick but the film cries out for a grungy Sundance look that would indicate that something a little weird is going on here. Otherwise, this is a really labor-intensive and seriously ill-conceived way to win a girl's heart.


Rolling Stone
Peter Travers

Some bad movies should carry a leper's bell to warn off ticket buyers. Such a contagion is Charlie St. Cloud, a load of mawkish swill starring Zac Efron (bereft of the talent he showed in Me and Orson Welles).

As Charlie, Efron plays catch every day at sunset with his younger brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). The problem? Sam died in a car accident.

Director Burr Steers, who guided Efron through the witless 17 Again, bathes this mush in golden light. But you can't shine a turd. Charlie falls in love with a pretty sailor (Amanda Crew). But even she's half dead. The movie is dead on arrival.

One out of Four stars

Chicago Tribune
Michael Phillips

The Motion Picture Association of America has given "Charlie St. Cloud" a PG-13 rating for, among other things, "an intense accident scene," which is the best way to describe the film itself.

With some supernatural melodramas you may buy what's on the page, as with "The Lovely Bones" or "The Time Traveler's Wife." Throw an ill-starred film adaptation at the same fantastic conceits, however, and they deflate faster than you can say "phffffft" or "whoops!" followed by "wha happened?" Ben Sherwood's novel "The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud," adapted here by Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, tells the tale of a college-bound working-class sailing phenom whose brother, Sam, 11, is killed by a drunk driver. Charlie's life derails; he cancels plans to attend Stanford on scholarship to become a hermit-like groundskeeper at the cemetery where Sam is buried.

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Strange things happen there. Charlie thinks he sees Sam behind a gravestone. Then, one day, looking quite hale, Sam shows up with his baseball glove and ball in hand. A bargain is struck: Every day at sundown, the brothers will throw the ball around, talk about the things that matter, work on their grounders. But Charlie (and this is all I'm saying about it) has special powers, and he communes with more than one spirit. When his onetime sailing competitor, Tess, ( Amanda Crew) starts gumming up the works, romantically speaking, Charlie confronts a host of tough questions.

Among them: How many different ways are there to cry? Zac Efron, who sloshes his way through the role of Charlie, tries them all and succeeds well enough, though "Charlie St. Cloud" might have gotten by with a more charismatic cast. Charlie Tahan's Sam fares best; he's direct, emotionally straightforward and he doesn't beg for our sympathy, even when everyone else works overtime at it.

The story's icky, frankly. (Warning: A wee spoiler follows.) At a key juncture, Charlie and Tess get together in the cemetery for something nobody ever does in the "Twilight" series, and then we learn it's not happening, at least not the way we think it is, because she has suffered a horrible sailing accident. And needs rescuing. By someone preferably shirtless. And someone ready to let go of his grief, which means letting go of the metaphor for that grief, the kid with the glove.

Live your life. Live it to the fullest. These are the worthy sentiments of "Charlie St. Cloud." Director Burr Steers milks them dry, like an overeager farmer at milking time, which is a paradox since this is the wettest picture of 2010, what with the sea spray and Efron's tear ducts and the general metaphysical mist.
One and a half stars

Metromix Chicago
Matt Pais

Five years after his 11-year-old brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) dies in a car accident, Boston-area heartthrob Charlie (Zac Efron) still has deferred his Stanford sailing scholarship and works in a cemetery. He finally talks to Tess (Amanda Crew), a cute sailor who went to his high school, but his time is mostly occupied by playing catch with his dead brother in the woods. Yep.

The buzz: “Life is for living,” says the movie’s tagline, which isn’t even profound enough to be on a motivational poster in an office building. Same goes for dialogue like “You hurt because you’re alive” and “You can’t put life on hold,” so this painfully earnest drama-which is based on the novel “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud” and is the movie Efron made after passing on “Footloose”-may or may not be better than some cheesy Movie of the Week.

The verdict: Even at his lowest points Charlie appears ready to audition for a skin-care or Calvin Klein commercial. “Charlie St. Cloud” is a similarly misjudged mix of morbidity and clean-cut inspirational schmaltz, going for All-American uplift but saying little about grief and recovery. Efron, who also rose above weak material in director Burr Steers’ “17 Again,” balances Charlie’s conflicting emotions and his feelings of guilt for wanting to move on from tragedy. If only the beautifully shot “Charlie,” which does offer a few sweet, romantic moments, weren’t more interested in “Sixth Sense”-style questions of who is or isn’t dead than what to do with those feelings of loss.

Did you know? Charlie so compels the local girls to flirt that after he says “Hey” a girl giggles and says, “You’re funny.” Though, to be fair, “Hey” is pretty hilarious.

Two and a half stars out of five

TimeOut New York
Keith Uhlich

High-school senior Charlie St. Cloud has it all: a full college scholarship, friends who adore him—and he’s played by Zac Efron! The future is as bright as his piercing baby blues, which don’t look like they’ve seen a day of disappointment. But wait…is that a drunk driver there in the distance, barreling toward baby brother Sam (Tahan)?

Suffice to say that Charlie’s dreams are shattered in an instant. Suddenly, this toothily grinning extrovert becomes a brooding (but still perfectly groomed) recluse, working as caretaker for the local cemetery. His days are consumed by chasing a flock of shit-happy ducks, his evenings devoted to playing catch with Sam, since Charlie can now talk to the dead.

Cue those weepy violins. Indeed, you get everything you’d expect from this mostly saccharine melodrama: Hallmark aphorisms, picturesque locales, a St. Jude–stumping paramedic (Liotta). Yet it feels as if director Burr Steers is trying to cast a more complicated eye on things, to the point that Charlie’s otherworldly encounters waffle between seeming divine and delusional. And one scene—a nighttime idyll between Charlie and his soulmate-of-a-sort, Tess (Crew)—is like Mizoguchi gone tween. Shallow homilies ultimately dominate, but there’s a deeper movie trying to get out from behind the greeting card.

Two of five stars

Village Voice
Aaron Hillis

In a go-nowhere Pacific Northwest town, dreamy high school sailor Charlie (played mostly by Zac Efron's abs and piercing gaze) puts his Stanford scholarship plans on indefinite hold after he momentarily flatlines in a car accident, which also takes his little brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). Half a decade later, Charlie has sunk into a shy, brooding routine as a cemetery caretaker, and meets his dead bro in the woods every sunset to toss around a baseball. Adapted from a 2005 novel by Ben Sherwood, this blatant heartstring-puller from director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) is more sentimental than subtle in depicting a grieving young man who's been stunted by his inability to let go. But even at its most maudlin (enter Ray Liotta as the St. Jude–praying, cancer-ridden paramedic who revived Charlie and has suddenly reconnected with him), this handsomely shot melodrama has a twist too peculiar to dismiss as some two-bit Nicholas Sparks weepie.


Slant Magazine
Nick Schager

Schmaltzy spawn of The Sixth Sense, Charlie St. Cloud stars Disney robo-star Zac Efron as a high school graduate named Charlie who can see dead people. Specifically, he can see his deceased brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), who died in an auto accident that should have also killed Charlie except that, according to Ray Liotta's St. Jude pendant-kissing EMT, God gave him a second chance for a reason. What with all the early references to the Almighty, Burr Steers's film never casts any doubt on whether Charlie is a lunatic or actually speaking to his sibling's spirit, thereby draining the only mystery from a teen-lit fable otherwise beholden to telegraphed redemption pap.

In Charlie's quaint New England town, where kids spend their days racing yachts and frolicking in the enchanting woods (his daily visits with his bro take place in a golden-lit forest clearing), everything of note happens at sundown, the characters' lives drenched in honeysuckle magic-hour hues. This cozy down-home atmosphere is so enveloping that it actually works at odds with the story's portrait of Charlie, who five years after the tragic car crash, is a sullen loner who has given up on his future (including his sailing scholarship to Stanford) to work as the local cemetery's caretaker.

Charlie's patch of small-town East Coast U.S.A. proves a scenic venue for his conversations with the departed, but Efron—habitually shot staring off into the distance, his face seemingly digitally airbrushed of blemishes—can't come close to expressing his contrived character's longing, hurt, and guilt. Consequently, while Charlie St. Cloud is reasonably competent when detailing Charlie's budding romance with a sailor named Tess (Amanda Crew), it falls apart during those moments when its protagonist broods intensely, culminating in a laughable scene in which Efron drowns his misery with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Far too pretty-boy insubstantial to carry the emotional drama of even a hoary melodramatic trifle like this, Efron only appears comfortable when asked to pose like a J. Crew model aboard a racing boat or sitting on a lighthouse perch.

At the same time, the film clings to the notion that Charlie is alive because of a higher calling (which comes to fruition during a corny third act), all the while ignoring the fact that—if this is true—it also holds that Sam died because his life had no greater purpose or meaning. Then again, asking mush like this to grapple with theological questions is about as unreasonable as former A-lister Kim Basinger's cursory cameo as Charlie's mom is depressing.

One and a half stars out of four

Now Toronto
Norman Wilner

Charlie St. Cloud is a quietly bonkers major studio production that attempts to make us believe Zac Efron can see dead people. Specifically, Charlie plays a nightly game of catch with his kid brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), who perished in a car crash that he barely survived.

Charlie has put his life on hold so he can keep seeing Sam, giving up on college and taking a menial job as a cemetery caretaker. This makes perfect emotional sense and also works as a smart metaphor for grief; he’s literally stuck among the dead. But life intrudes when Charlie reconnects with a young woman (Amanda Crew) who kinda liked him back in high school and now plans to sail around the world. Does he stick with his spectral sibling, or follow his heart toward new horizons?

You can feel director Burr Steers’s spiky Igby Goes Down sensibility in the scenes between Efron and Tahan and in the movie’s unsentimental depiction of dead Sam as the same little smart-ass he was in life. But everything else – the sappy romantic interludes, the trash-can surfing sequence and an ethereal, chaste love scene straight out of a Twilight chapter – feels like the product of studio interference, trying to fix problems that may not have existed in the first place.

The overall result, despite some borderline-insane twists, is just mush.

Two out of five

Brian Orndorf

There’s something painfully off about “Charlie St. Cloud” that causes it to miss most of the dramatic points it endeavors to make. It’s a well-intentioned tearjerker, but the film appears to have been whittled down rather harshly in the editing room, leaving a picture of little personality, but perceptible ambition.

A confident, skilled teen, Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) has a bright future ahead of him, with college pulling him away from his family, including his beloved little brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). When a car accident kills Sam, Charlie is devastated by the loss, shelving his future to stay home, hoping to honor a promise to his sibling that the two will play catch daily at sunset, palling around inside a local forest. While the world moves on around Charlie, the young man plants himself, seeking the comfort of Sam’s ghost. Complicating matters is Tess (Amanda Crew, “Sex Drive”), a determined sailor who takes a shine to wounded young man, despite their competitive past. It’s a relationship that confuses Charlie, now caught between the love of a woman and the spirit of his dead brother.

Based on the novel by Ben Sherwood, “Charlie St. Cloud” has the appearance of a thoughtful story pared down to basic elements of grief for the big screen. Something about the tale apparently spooked the studio and director Burr Steers (“17 Again”), who’ve both streamlined the story for the final cut, stripping away useful characterization to hit sweet spots of crippling guilt that drive the emotion of the piece. Necessary supporting characters, such as Charlie’s mother (Kim Basinger) and his devoted paramedic (Ray Liotta), are clipped almost entirely out of the film, leaving massive gaps in the community atmosphere the script appears interested in developing.

The cold editorial decisions rob the film of focus, leaving Charlie’s quest slightly confusing, with all the yearn well cared for, but the rules of his ghost whispering in the dark. The role is handed a comforting, modest touch from Efron, who doesn’t quite have the darkness within him to articulate the paralyzing shame, but the awakening spirit of the character is nicely played. Efron gives the role a generous clench of raw emotion, but Steers loses the effect by glossing over the particulars of the afterlife, which come across frustratingly random at times. There are twists to the feature, but nothing provides a direct impact, primarily because the foundation of Charlie’s anguish is only vaguely established. Again, it seems like a colossal chunk of life was removed from the picture somewhere on the way to release, making the feature feel like one big build up to nothing.

Attempting to liven up the proceedings with a suspenseful, adventurous finale at sea, “Charlie St. Cloud” leaps before it looks, motoring into melodramatic events that appear a bit too hysterical for the situation at hand, while once again crossing into muddled storytelling that doesn’t deliver an adequate payoff to the afterlife mysteries. “Charlie St. Cloud” certainly means well, and once again I’m impressed with Efron’s gifts as an actor, but the picture is a declawed mess, begging for tears in the end. I hope the filmmakers are willing to accept puzzled looks instead.


Daily Herald
Michael Wilmington

Mystical stories about star-crossed teen lovers, and baseball-mitt pounding kid brothers from beyond, aren't exactly my cup of saccharine-laced tea.

But if you have to look at something like that, you could probably do worse than "Charlie St. Cloud." It's a good-looking movie, well shot in the Pacific Northwest. Its lovers are good-looking and likeably flirtatious. Professional cutie-pie Zac Efron (of the awful "High School Musical" movies and the very good "Me and Orson Welles") plays the title character: guilt-plagued Charlie McCloud. And Amanda Crew is svelte and spunky boating enthusiast Tess Carroll.

On the other hand, if you're looking for a movie that makes a lick of sense, you're better off going back to "Inception" for another shot, or waiting for some new ultra-realistic American indie.

"Charlie St. Cloud" plays like something that might have slipped away from Nicholas Sparks on an off day. The movie begins with the brothers McCloud, poorer kids mingling with the smug rich ones, winning a sailboat race and jumping and hugging each other in sunny freeze-frames.

It's too sweet to last. Soon we're introduced to their pretty single mom, Kim Basinger as Claire St. Cloud. And, all too soon, the brothers have driven off together in the night (Sam insisted on tagging along, which is a real danger sign) and gotten involved in a horrendous car-car-truck accident that results in Sam's death and the temporary flat-lining of Charlie. He's saved by gabby paramedic Florio Ferrente (Ray Liotta).

But Sam (smashingly played by Charlie Tahan) isn't gone. His spirit lingers on, pounding his baseball mitt in the nearby forest, and waiting for faithful Charlie, who has promised to meet Sam every day for a game of catch and a catch-up confab. Nobody else can see Sam of course, which eventually leaves them wondering why Charlie is babbling so fervently to the air and the trees.

Five years pass. Mom Claire has left Charlie and relocated (I really wondered about her readiness to leave both her dead son and the living one). And Charlie has gotten a job at the local cemetery so he can be near Sam and any other stray spirits who might materialize. He has a nearly incomprehensible Brit buddy named Alistair (Augustus Prew) and a crush on a fetching lass who shows up at the cemetery: a Kate Beckinsale-ish ex-classmate named Tess (Amanda Crew), who makes a fuss about the cemetery flower arrangements.

You may wonder why Charlie has been able to show up every day for that game of catch. I wondered myself. No sickness? No pressing engagements? No thunderstorms? What will the poor guy do when Tess on her boat gets predictably lost in a storm? Take a rain check?

Tune in tomorrow. Meanwhile, with Efron staring mooningly at Tess and the camera, "Charlie St. Cloud" may please teens or tweens. Boating enthusiasts and devotees of loves beyond the grave may brush away a tear or two.

But how much can you expect of a movie with a paramedic named Florio Ferrente and a ghost with a baseball mitt?

Two stars

Compuserve Showbiz Forum
Harvey Karten

There might have been a time that movies about folks who see beings that nobody else can was risk-taking, but then again, maybe not, since even in 1946, Jimmy Stewart’s George Bailey was able to see Clarence the angel in “It’s a Wonderful Life” and the same actor in 1972 saw a six-foot rabbit with a wonderful name. When Cole Sear announced in 1999 “I can see dead people,” others in his life treated that gift as no big deal. Seeing things that nobody else can see may be a cliché but M. Night Shyamalan knew how to win over an audience by evoking terrific performances and displaying a suspenseful plot—with a great twist at the conclusion.

By contrast, when Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) promises to be with his vivacious eleven-year-old brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), every day in the same place at the same time, you can’t blame an audience for yawning. Sam was killed when Charlie’s car is hit by a drunk driver, killing the kid brother while Charlie ended up nearly dead himself. In fact Florio Ferrente (Ray Liotta), the paramedic who notes that Charlie’s heartbeat had gone flat but perked up suddenly, leaving him merely injured but despondent. Florio lets the young man know that he has been given a gift—which turns out to be the ability to see and play catch with Sam’s ghost. Nonetheless, Charlie is so overwhelmed with guilt for being the indirect cause of the kid’s death that he gives up a sailing scholarship to Stanford University, the Harvard of the West, not too far from his home in the gorgeous Pacific Northwest. Instead, he takes on a job usually held by 70-year-old grizzled men: graveyard caretaker, which gives him the use of a shack by the cemetery. In other words, he defies the tagline of the movie, “Life is for living,” which seems logical enough but in this case means that a twenty-three-year-old fellow with looks that put him into competition with a young Brad Pitt and with the current Robert Pattinson, should we doing a lot more than taking care of weeds and making sure that people do not make marks on the gravestones.

The picture is divided into two plots. One involves watching Charlie play catch with his brother. The other involves a romance with a Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew), a pleasant-enough person but not one with looks that could take audience attention away from Charlie’s. Like Charlie, Tess is an avid sailor. The movie opens, in fact, on a sailboat race, beautifully filmed by Enrique Chediak—though it’s difficult to film anything in the Oregon-Washington area that is anything but that. Other than cinematography, the dialogue is banal, the plot utterly conventional (talking to a ghost notwithstanding), and the whole business might find a spot on TV’s Hallmark Hall of Fame—which is not that insulting considering that Jimmy Stewart’s Elwood P. Dowd in “Harvey” appeared on that very program.

Why would anyone want to go to such a formulaic project? Two words. Zac Efron. The 23-year-old is probably the handsomest Hollywood actor in his age range today, head and shoulders above Robert Pattinson—but in a pretty-boy way, which is to say with age he is not likely to acquire the manly charisma of a Colin Farrell or a Daniel Craig. The audience for this is the teen and tween girl demographic, a PG-13 job with only one or two mildly vulgar words and a sex scene as discreet as you’d find in the 1950s movies that signify action by aiming the camera at the dark outside and continuing its gaze with the rising sun.

The poster is a giveaway: just a closeup of Zac Efron looking wistfully at the sky, the dock and water in the background. This could be the dullest poster of the year, but the marketing department knows what it’s doing: The film is not marketed for any group but the young women who might drool each time they see this young man and go to this movie not for plot of acting but for what can be reduced to a modeling session. Blink and you won’t see Kim Basinger, who plays the part of St. Cloud’s mom, but then again, what teen wants to spend much time with a 56-year-old woman. however beautiful?

Tags: reviews: cstc
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