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CStC Reviews Part A

Washington Post
Michael O'Sullivan

"Charlie St. Cloud," like its star Zac Efron, is a gorgeous, unblemished thing. Both would be much improved with a tiny flaw or two.

Don't get me wrong. Efron is nice to look at. Many moviegoers will no doubt go just to see him smile, and brood, and take off his shirt, which he does with a regularity approaching that of Matthew McConaughey. (There's even a scene where he jumps into a pond in his clothing, turning the movie momentarily into a wet T-shirt contest. Ladies and gentlemen, we have a winner!)

What's more, the 22-year-old (of "High School Musical" fame) is turning into a pretty decent actor. As the titular Charlie, a young man whose guilt and grief over his 11-year-old brother's death -- in a car Charlie was driving -- has paralyzed him emotionally, Efron works hard to make you believe his character's angst. The scenes in which he plays catch with dead brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), with whom Charlie has a daily play date in the woods, are particularly touching. And when Tess (Amanda Crew), a former high school classmate of Charlie's, tries to reconnect with him, Charlie's reluctance to allow himself real-world pleasure is almost palpable.

It's just that the movie, like the man, is a little too perfect.

From the insistently gooey score that pushes and prods you to feel Charlie's pain, to the sparkling cinematography that turns the fictional Pacific Northwest setting of Quincy Bay into an ad for a vacation time share, the movie has a machine-extruded gloss that makes it harder, not easier, to swallow its difficult emotions. You'll want to buy into them -- Efron is a very good salesman -- but they're so smooth and creamy going down, they barely register as feelings at all.

Based on the novel "The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud," by Ben Sherwood, the story itself has a predictable arc. A promising high school sailor with an athletic scholarship to Stanford, Charlie has put his plans -- and his life -- on hold after Sam dies, taking on a job as cemetery caretaker so that he can be near his brother, with whom he has a pact to meet every day at sunset. Five years after the accident, when Charlie and Tess start falling for each other, Charlie's connection to Sam, or Sam's spirit, is threatened.

Sam, of course, is a walking metaphor for survivor's guilt. Charlie himself almost died in the accident but was resuscitated by a paramedic (Ray Liotta), whose defibrillator has left scars on Charlie's chest that serve as constant reminders. The self-help-heavy script includes such aphorisms as "You hurt because you're alive" (courtesy of Sam's ghost) and "At some point, we all have to let go" (courtesy of Tess).

Those lines will come as no surprise. What will come as a surprise is something of a plot twist having to do with Charlie's ability to "see" dead people, a result of his having visited the other side. In addition to Sam, Charlie also communes, briefly, with the ghost of another old school chum (Dave Franco), who was killed in Iraq.

I won't spoil things, except to say that this development will probably catch you off guard. It did me. I only wish there were more about the movie that was off-balance.

The sudden loss of equilibrium gives the film, however temporarily, some traction in its gliding progress toward a rather foregone conclusion. Like the minor scrapes and abrasions that appear on Efron's face after the accident, and then fade away -- and like those persistent paddle scars -- it's the most interesting feature about a too slick and only partially satisfying "Charlie St. Cloud."

One and a half stars out of four

LA Times
Betsy Sharkey

"Charlie St. Cloud," which stars the very swoony Zac Efron as a haunted hunk in need of saving, is a study in restraint when restraint is really the last thing needed here.

Everything about the story screams heartbreaking weepy, from its premise — two brothers, bad car wreck, one dies, the other left with mountains of guilt — to the tears that well up and settle into Efron's deep sea blue eyes.

So director Burr Steers, who dealt nicely with the young heartthrob's comedy assets in " 17 Again," should have dragged us through one gut-wrenching scene after another. But he doesn't. Too bad, because there are times when the sentimental possibilities are just so shamelessly obvious, and Ben Sherwood's novel certainly set the stage, that the tragedy should be played for all it's worth (a la "The Notebook," sniffle, sniffle). Instead, "Charlie St. Cloud" skims across the surface and the beautiful Pacific Northwest bay where the film was shot — it's also a sailing story — with Efron trying his best to keep this boat afloat.

The film opens as Charlie (Efron), a working-class kid with an adorable but annoying younger brother, Sam (a very engaging Charlie Tahan), is slicing through rough waters in his dingy, racing against the well-turned-out rich kids in the local regatta. But our hero, with help from his little bro, wins the race, just another success to go with top grades and the sailing scholarship to Stanford.

This kid clearly has promise, but in case you haven't figured that out by now, the school principal says, "I expect great things from you," when he hands over that hard-earned diploma, while Sam and their equally hard-working single mom ( Kim Basinger) proudly look on. Meanwhile, young Sam has a baseball jones for the Boston Red Sox and Charlie agrees to play catch with him every night until he heads off to college in the fall.

But into every life some rain must fall and soon there it is — a dark and raining night, a drunk driver, a crash, a crash-cart manned by paramedic Ray Liotta and everything changes for Charlie, who's brought back to life only to be faced with burying Sam.

Now here's where things really get mystical and spiritual, two elements that have befuddled some of the best filmmakers around, as Peter Jackson's disappointing "The Lovely Bones" reminded us last year. Steers is not immune to the difficulties as he deals with the fact that Sam is dead, but he's not exactly gone either. The filmmaker opts for a very thin line between the real and the ethereal, or really more like no line, though director of photography Enrique Chediak does a nice job of making whatever reality Charlie is in beautiful.

Flash forward five years. Mom's left for Portland, Ore.; Charlie's beloved dingy is dry-docked; his Stanford sailing plans have been scuttled. Instead, he's a caretaker at the cemetery where Sam is buried, and just before sunset each day, Sam materializes and the brothers play catch and talk about life.

Enter Tess ( Amanda Crew), a former classmate back home prepping for a solo sail around the world and clearly love interest material for Charlie. Here's where things start speeding up (finally) with screenwriters Craig Pearce (who often writes with director Baz Luhrmann, "Moulin Rouge!" among others) and Lewis Colick ("Ladder 49") throwing in everything but the kitchen sink including: raging storms, nonessential anniversary parties, badly maintained grave sites, to say nothing of a bunch of one-note scenes for various ancillary characters and heavy-handed dialogue like, "God has a plan for you."

The central conceit of the film turns on Tess, the one person in Charlie's life who actually might help him come to terms with Sam's death. But the film zips through their early encounters so quickly, the actors barely have time to spell "chemistry" much less develop any. So, when Charlie's "Sophie's Choice" moment comes, it's not nearly as painful or as emotional as it should be.

The good news is that Efron continues to get better with each film; he just hasn't gotten a role yet that will finally put his acting potential to the test. So, for now, Efron remains an unrealized dream and "Charlie St. Cloud" an unrealized movie, though judging from the "ooohhs" and "awwwws" from the audience, for his core tween-girl fans, that's more than enough.


NY Times
AO Scott

Pop quiz: Name a current movie set in the Pacific Northwest in which a mopey young man with upswept hair who is frequently shirtless and played by an actor madly crushed on by millions of adolescent girls has unusually close relationships with the dead. If you guessed “The Twilight Saga: Eclipse,” you are of course not wrong, but the correct answer today is “Charlie St. Cloud.”

Charlie, who is played with a pleasant enough blend of geniality and melancholy by Zac Efron, is not a vampire. And the film, directed by Burr Steers (“17 Again”; “Igby Goes Down”) and based on a novel by Ben Sherwood, seems unaware of its own gothic tendencies. This is a big problem. “Charlie St. Cloud” behaves like a heart-swelling romantic melodrama with a supernatural theme, but really, given what happens, it should be a horror movie.

Good manners prevent me from saying exactly what does happen, since to reveal a hugely significant plot twist in the middle of the movie would be a terrible spoiler. Then again, you might not believe me. So why don’t we let it go and note only that Charlie spends a lot of time with the ghost of his younger brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan).

Even if you haven’t seen the trailers, Sam’s death is enough of a foregone conclusion that it comes as a relief when the filmmakers (and an unseen drunken driver) dispense with the boy fairly early in the movie. Charlie, who lives with Sam and their mother (a distracted Kim Basinger), is about to go off to Stanford on a sailing scholarship when the tragedy strikes.

Five years later Mom has left town, and Charlie lives a semihermetic existence, working as the caretaker in the town cemetery and living amid nautical charts and old mementos in a ramshackle cottage. Every evening, when a seaside cannon signals the sunset, he goes off into the woods to play catch with Sam, one of several dead people Charlie is able to see. Some living people show up too, notably Ray Liotta as the E.M.T. — now stricken with cancer and bright-eyed with religious fervor — who saved Charlie’s life after the accident that killed Sam.

All this is fine — kind of sweet, kind of creepy, though not as achy as “Ghost” or as haunting as “The Sixth Sense.” Certain logical questions do arise. For example, when a living person plays catch with an apparition from beyond the grave, visible only to him, do they use a real baseball? But such riddles are swept away when Charlie meets Tess (Amanda Crew), who has come home, after college and the death of her father, to prepare herself for an around-the-world solo sailing voyage. They begin to fall in love, which places each one in a painful predicament. Charlie has promised never to abandon Sam, while Tess (under the tutelage of a gruff coach played by Donal Logue), has the world to conquer all by herself.

The movie has a convincingly romantic look and mood. The rippling water of the Pacific and the lush greenery of the coastal landscape are nicely shot by the cinematographer, Enrique Chediak, and the musical selections, while not hugely imaginative, supply a youthful kick that complements Rolfe Kent’s tear-jerking score. Mr. Efron and Ms. Crew are the kind of young actors you might be glad to see in a romantic comedy, or in the film adaptation of a Nicholas Sparks novel (which is something “Charlie St. Cloud,” with its coastal setting and its mawkish morbidity, superficially resembles).

But no. Charlie and Tess do have a moonlit love scene in the graveyard. (“MacGruber” did this kind of thing better.) And the aftermath of that scene, when you stop to think about it, introduces an element of ickiness that destroys any emotional credibility “Charlie St. Cloud” might have had. You are not, in a movie like this, supposed to think too much; you are supposed to be transported beyond skepticism on a wave of pure, tacky feeling. Instead, in this case, you drown in sentimental, ghoulish nonsense.


Mark Jenkins

A fresh-faced zombie movie with an uplifting moral, Charlie St. Cloud purports to grapple with matters of life and death. But this ode to "moving on" from grief packs so little genuine emotion that it will touch only the most susceptible of viewers.

As the title character, Disney pinup Zac Efron doesn't have enough substance to be a cloud; he's more like a barely perceptible Pacific Northwest drizzle, although he'll presumably become more noticeable to the film's target audience each time he takes off his shirt.

Adapted from Ben Sherwood's 2005 novel, the movie begins with the camera skimming excitedly across Puget Sound. Charlie, a heck of a sailboat racer even though he's not part of the upscale local in crowd, is about to win another regatta. Along for the ride is his little brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). The two are nearly inseparable since Dad abandoned them; Mom (a Kim Basinger cameo) is usually working double shifts.

Sam fears that Charlie will soon abandon him for college. Instead, the brothers are divided by a drunk driver, who knocks their car into the path of a truck. Both boys die, but a devoutly religious paramedic (Ray Liotta) manages to zap Charlie back to this mortal coil.

Charlie's reaction to what the paramedic calls "a complete miracle"? "I can't leave him," he protests, reaching for his inert brother.

Five years later, it turns out that the St. Cloud boys haven't been separated at all. Charlie has rejected Stanford and sailing to become the caretaker at the oh-so-pleasant cemetery where Sam is buried. And every evening at dusk, Charlie plays catch with his baseball-loving sibling's ghost.

Yup, Charlie can see dead people. More than see them, in fact. After years of little human contact — except with a loudmouth co-worker who sports an incongruous Cockney accent — Charlie becomes intimate with Tess (Amanda Crew), a pretty sailor who's too perfect to be anything but an apparition.

But maybe Tess isn't exactly dead. Perhaps Charlie can save her, if only he can go deep enough into the dream. (Oh, sorry — that's Inception.) Charlie St. Cloud isn't nearly as complicated as that movie, but both flicks do share slightly creepy dream date-rape scenarios.

Oddly, Charlie St. Cloud also recalls a somewhat less somber movie, Caddyshack. The graveyard is bedeviled not by ghouls but by geese, so Charlie — like Bill Murray's groundskeeper before him — is forever attempting new gambits to drive off unwanted animals. Understandably, the birds are not frightened by the occasional phantasms, all of them roughly as spooky as Casper.

The movie, supervised by 17 Again director Burr Steers, includes a few high-school musical numbers. In an especially pointless one, Charlie and his dead brother frolic in the rain to The Ramones' "California Sun."

Unlike The Lovely Bones, this film doesn't attempt to show the afterlife as experienced by those who die too young. But then, who needs Heaven when you live in a picturesque sailing village in Microsoftland? Charlie St. Cloud may be a tale of loss, but its characters seem to have everything they could possibly want.


Boston Channel (AP)

Zac Efron and the rest of the crew behind "Charlie St. Cloud" want their movie to be weepy, soulful, inspirational, cathartic, ethereal, life-affirming and who knows what else on the New Age emotional barometer.

Too bad they didn't aim to make it a little interesting.

This melodrama about a young man who puts his life in stasis after his kid brother's death is a bore, despite a somewhat clever twist -- somewhat because it momentarily jolts the story out of the doldrums before the movie settles back to sleep.

Adapted by director Burr Steers and screenwriters Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick from Ben Sherwood's novel "The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud," the movie deals with the biggest of issues -- why are we here, where are we bound? -- with the blandest of greeting-card sentiments. While Efron aims to show he's more than just a "High School Musical" heartthrob, he's vacuous in the title role here, sleepwalking through what's meant to be a journey from the deepest despair toward new hope.

Efron's Charlie has everything going his way in his Pacific Northwest hometown. He's a master yachtsman about to graduate from high school and head off to college with a sailing scholarship. His female classmates swoon at the sight of him. He's best friend, idol and father figure to his young brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan).

Then Sam dies in a terrible accident, while Charlie is revived after a near-death experience that leaves him seeing dead people -- not in a creepy "The Sixth Sense" manner but in an everyday, how's-your-afterlife-going sort of way.

Five years later, Charlie's stuck in limbo, working as the caretaker at the cemetery where Sam is buried and still looking after his little brother, who keeps popping up from beyond to hang out.

What could ever shock Charlie back to life? Why, the love of a fine woman, of course.

Just as she's about to head off on a 'round-the-world solo sailing race, Charlie's high school classmate Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew) comes back into his world, rekindling his interest in living people, the sea and everything else for which he once had a passion.

The surprise turn in the plot initially leaves hope for something better than a predictable Hollywood ending. But if you give any thought to that little twist, it makes no sense, even within a story where a guy chats with dead folks. So best not to give it any thought.

Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta appear in oddly fleeting roles -- she as Charlie and Sam's single mom, he as a paramedic who revived Charlie and asks him the Big Question -- why'd you get to come back, kid?

Donal Logue also is on hand for a meager part as Tess' sailing coach, an insignificant character except for his silly name -- Tink Weatherbee. Steers, who made the decent teen tale "Igby Goes Down" and also directed Efron in the piffling comedy "17 Again," does a nice job putting some soul in the scenery, even if he can't manage the same for the characters. The sailing images are lovely, the seascape is bleakly beautiful, and the town is pretty as a postcard.

Efron certainly looks pretty, too, and since he's there for almost every frame of "Charlie St. Cloud," maybe that's enough for his young fans, even if no one's home behind Charlie's cloudy eyes.


Michelle Orange

True-blue star vehicles are an increasingly rare phenomenon, in part because of a tacit, old-fashioned pact they make with audiences: The vehicle will give you an up-close and often partially clothed look at its subject, a known but not quite proven performer who will laugh, cry, and seduce for your pleasure. The vehicle will then deliver you to a destination of uplift and comfort you will subliminally associate with the subject. In return, you will deliver that subject to stardom. Who has time for the traditional route when there are so many short cuts available?

It seems that Zac Efron does. He’s in many ways an old-fashioned young man, and his career has followed a kind of retro trajectory: Breakout teen performer with a fondness for old-school musicals, shopping-mall idol, self-conscious ingénue, and now, God- and Charlie St. Cloud-willing, full-blown movie star. He has chosen his parts with the cunning of a Mayer or Selznick, shaping a career into discrete stages, wary of overreaching, or putting, say, the superhero before the cart. It makes me a little nostalgic, actually, and so did Charlie St. Cloud, at least for a while. Set on the coast in the Pacific Northwest, it has a lush and yet slightly rumpled look; in the early scenes its loose-limbed tone combines with conspicuous class issues to give it the feel of a minor 1980’s classic. Ultimately that quality gets sucked into the plot’s disappointing spin cycle, a more-is-more tendency that feels like a modern phenomenon but probably isn’t.

Charlie (Efron) and his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) are a team during their two-man sailing skiff competitions and at home, managing a house while their single mother (Kim Basinger, in a tiny, sketched-in role) works double shifts as a nurse. Charlie’s the captain and a rough-hewn golden boy: Set to attend Stanford on a scholarship, he wants to spend his last summer at home racking up wins and teaching 10-year-old Sam some baseball essentials. Tahan is a blissfully natural brat — he’s sensitive, watchful, and occasionally impossible, and there is not a cloying note in what could easily have been a phoned-in moppet fest. “Sexy face,” Charlie instructs his brother, just before a photo of the winning duo is snapped, and Tahan’s expression is both so earnest and so self-aware — he is, after all, standing beside a former teen dream — that his character is established in a single frame.

One of their fellow competitors — a girl named Tess (Amanda Crew) — pulls a pretty mean sexy face whenever Charlie leaves her in the dust, but he’s too caught up to notice. Determined to attend a party although he’s on babysitting duty, Charlie is chauffeuring Sam to a friend’s house when a drunk driver ends their evening — and Sam’s life — prematurely. Director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down, 17 Again) has a keen, highly intuitive sense of the story’s space — he keeps you exactly where you need to be — and handles this scene and those that immediately follow with a steady, impressionistic intensity that avoids mawkish cliché. The bonehead shoveling giant palmfuls of popcorn into his mouth beside me didn’t break his stride from the accident right through the funeral; I couldn’t figure out if that boded well or badly for the film.

After a five-year jump we find Charlie exactly where we left him: in the cemetery, where he now works as a groundskeeper. Life has stopped completely because Charlie has discovered a loophole that will keep Sam in limbo — and visible only to him — as long as Charlie keeps the deal they made the day he died to work on their fastballs every evening at dusk. It’s a blunt but serviceable metaphor, one that is strained when a burgeoning love affair with now-thriving sailor Tess is shoehorned into it in one of those shocking, spoiler-ific twists. It’s as if Burr felt what he had — a perfectly warm, well-acted film about grief and getting on with life — was not enough; the film goes for maximum wow factor instead of following its better, quieter instincts.

Efron, who has finally abdicated that appalling haircut to his heir apparent, Justin Beiber, is charming, as usual, but also a surprisingly substantial presence on screen. I refer not only to his, well, well-developed body and frequently-tapped waterworks, but also to a striking emotional confidence, even as he plays a promising young man who has withdrawn from his peers and his plans. The vehicle may get a little jacked up along the way, but its passenger arrives in style: The kid’s a star.


Katey Rich

I honestly believe we haven't seen the best that Zac Efron has to offer. The High School Musical star is famous for being a blandly pretty singer and dancer, but he showed off real comedic skill in 17 Again and Hairspray, and seems aware enough of the pitfalls of young fame to make his way toward adulthood unscathed. Of course, any progress out of adolescence is going to involve some growing pains, and Lord is that ever what Charlie St. Cloud is. A movie that basically takes place inside a Thomas Kinkade painting, with Nicholas Sparks-level ideas about human emotion and dramatic conflict. it's like a friend you're not that fond of sobbing sloppily on your shoulder. Zac, we love you, but we really didn't ask for this.

Based on a novel by Ben Sherwood that may very well have been less mawkish and more coherent, Charlie St. Cloud first meets its title character (Efron, of course) on the eve of his high school graduation. He's the kind of poor kid who owns and races a sailboat, the kind of cool kid who hangs out constantly with his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), and the kind of son who merely dreams for his overworked mom (Kim Basinger in what amounts to a cameo) to get a better job. Yeah, you know this kid, but only from movies like this one. Charlie's life changes drastically when a car accident kills Sam and gives Charlie the ability to communicate with the dead-- including, conveniently, Sam. He ditches college plans and takes a job tending a graveyard, where he sticks to himself except for nightly conversations and pitching lessons with Sam in a verdant wood dappled with gold light.

Charlie has spent five years living like this but, conveniently, only when we meet back up with him does he start running into old high school friends, among them Tess (Amanda Crew), a sailor cutie with big plans to sail around the world. She and Charlie only meet cute briefly before she returns from a sailing run and they kick off a big steamy romance, but is his relationship with Tess what it seems? And what about poor Sam, the ghost boy who will be forced to move on to heaven once Charlie lets him go? It's just as creepy as it sounds to see a man torn between the love of a girl his age and the love of his younger brother, and yet that's not even the weirdest thing that happens as Charlie St. Cloud nosedives straight into supernatural nonsense in the third act.

A list of weirder things: The presence of Ray Liotta as a cancer-stricken paramedic who meets up with Charlie for one scene and preaches at him unconvincingly about living life to the fullest. The presence of Donal Logue as a sailing coach named, no joke, Tink Weatherbee. The fact that Zac Efron loses his onscreen virginity (all soft lift and chaste cutaways) in a graveyard, and is woken up the next morning by geese. The fact that this picturesque harbor town pays people to set off cannons every night at sunset-- hasn't anyone there ever protested the use of their tax dollars?

Efron is charged with carrying the weight of all these heavy feelings and at least three crying scenes, but as mesmerizing as his blue eyes are and as much as I know I would have wanted to cuddle with him in a graveyard when I was 17, he's simply not capable of selling it. In quiet moments-- well, relatively quiet, given Rolfe Kent's overbearing score-- we're intended to see the weight of the world in Charlie's eyes, but Efron gives us nothing, and his 17 Again director Burr Steers is equally out of his depth. The two are welcome to collaborate on as many rehashes of 17 Again as they please, but they should be kept far, far away from the wet-eyed histrionics that sink whatever potential there was in Charlie St. Cloud.

One and a half stars out of five

Canoe Jam
Liz Braun

The evolution of Zac Efron from teen heartthrob to adult actor continues with Charlie St. Cloud, a sweet little film about loss and grieving.

The movie tackles big issues with a combination of courage and Cheez Whiz, and the end result is bound to please Efron's many fans.

Based on the Ben Sherwood bestseller, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, the movie opens with exuberant sailing scenes that are all about the joy of being alive. Charlie (Efron) and his brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) have just won an important sailing race together, and it's quickly established that Charlie is both a big brother and a father figure to his younger sibling. The boys are being raised by a single mother (Kim Basinger), and all the family hopes seem pinned on Charlie, who will be going to university on a scholarship.

Then there's a family tragedy, and all of Charlie's plans are changed. His little brother dies in an accident. Charlie's ability to commune with the dead leads him to become the caretaker at the local cemetery; it's a dead-end job, no pun intended, but Charlie can't move on. He is overcome with grief, and this is how he copes. Every day at dusk he meets with his dead brother for a get-together only he can see -- and for something with the potential to go so wrong for so many reasons, these scenes are surprisingly harmless.

Movie Review: Charlie St. Cloud

Efron shows skills in 'Charlie'

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The evolution of Zac Efron from teen heartthrob to adult actor continues with Charlie St. Cloud, a sweet little film about loss and grieving.

The movie tackles big issues with a combination of courage and Cheez Whiz, and the end result is bound to please Efron's many fans.

Based on the Ben Sherwood bestseller, The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, the movie opens with exuberant sailing scenes that are all about the joy of being alive. Charlie (Efron) and his brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) have just won an important sailing race together, and it's quickly established that Charlie is both a big brother and a father figure to his younger sibling. The boys are being raised by a single mother (Kim Basinger), and all the family hopes seem pinned on Charlie, who will be going to university on a scholarship.

Then there's a family tragedy, and all of Charlie's plans are changed. His little brother dies in an accident. Charlie's ability to commune with the dead leads him to become the caretaker at the local cemetery; it's a dead-end job, no pun intended, but Charlie can't move on. He is overcome with grief, and this is how he copes. Every day at dusk he meets with his dead brother for a get-together only he can see -- and for something with the potential to go so wrong for so many reasons, these scenes are surprisingly harmless.

Time passes. Into Charlie's life comes Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew), his old sailing rival from high school. There's an obvious attraction between them, but not much Charlie can act on, seeing as he's tied to his daily ghost rituals. Still, as things develop, Charlie finds himself torn between the living and the dead.

The accident that killed Charlie's brother almost killed Charlie too, and once he's reminded that he got a second chance at life, Charlie figures out how to use it. The third act of the film goes into the eye-rolling zone, with all manner of drama and miracles on the water, but so much good will has been established prior that a viewer can almost sit still for the rest.

Charlie St. Cloud lets Zac Efron show how capable an actor he is in his post-High School Musical years, even as it introduces both scene-stealer Charlie Tahan and the underrated Amanda Crew to a wider audience. All three are very good. The movie ventures into Ghost and Truly Madly Deeply territory, involving spirits and perception and all, but manages a fairly light touch throughout. It seems mostly to be a showcase for Efron, and in that regard, it works perfectly. He may surprise you.

At the screening we attended, Efron's fans were out in full force and buzzing with excitement -- literally -- at the love scenes between their boy Zac and Crew; we mention this only because the noise is unexpected and bit confusing to the uninitiated. What's all the giggling and whispering about? It's about Zac Efron's massive fan base.

Charlie St. Cloud will only increase the sound.


Desert News
Jeff Vice

For Zac Efron, "17 Again" was not only an unexpected hit, it was the kind of movie he needed at that point in his career. In that comedy, Efron proved he could be more than the song-and-dance guy he was in the popular "High School Musical" features.

And "Charlie St. Cloud" was supposed to be the next step forward in his career, the kind of movie that would prove he's a performer with real range.

Unfortunately, this contrived fantasy-drama doesn't really give him that opportunity. It's a ludicrous blend of melodrama and supernatural elements, and the results suggest what might happen if sappy author Nicholas Sparks and twisty filmmaker M. Night Shyamalan ever joined forces.

(There are definite nods to Shyamalan's "The Sixth Sense" and Sparks' "Message in a Bottle" here.)

Efron stars as the title character, a once-promising sailing competitor whose dreams were cut short by tragedy.

Charlie was at the wheel of a car during an accident in which his younger brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), was killed. And Charlie nearly died, as well, before he was resuscitated by an EMT (Ray Liotta).

However, the guilt-ridden Charlie hasn't done much with his second chance at life. These days, he's working as a groundskeeper for a cemetery, and he's still preoccupied with Sam. In fact, he imagines he has daily, baseball-throwing sessions with his long-departed sibling.
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Charlie's obsession with Sam may prevent him from experiencing true happiness with Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew). She's a former boating rival and classmate who's preparing for an around-the-world journey but wants to spend time with Charlie before she heads out.

Director Burr Steers and a pair of credited screenwriters put a fairly serious spin on Ben Sherwood's best-selling novel "The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud."

And again, this material really doesn't fit Efron. He seems uncomfortable playing a character as petulant and sulky as Charlie is written.

The veteran supporting cast members are minimal presences at best, especially Liotta. (Kim Basinger also shows up briefly, as the St. Cloud boys' mother, while Donal Logue plays Tess's coach).

Two stars

The Globe and Mail
Liam Lacey

The new Zac Efron movie Charlie St. Cloud is a packaged teen weepie that often feels stranger than it intends to be. Efron, the Disney heartthrob with the cerulean irises and artfully messy hair, has been candid in characterizing the film as a ladder rung in his career, between High School Musical stardom and more grown-up serious roles.

What “serious” means for young actors, as we know from Miley Cyrus’s The Last Song, is maudlin, and Charlie St. Cloud is no exception. In early scenes, Efron’s Charlie is a cocky high-school sailing prodigy who has a hard-working mom (Kim Basinger) and pesky, 11-year-old brother Sam (Charlie Tahan). On his graduation night, Charlie gets into a car crash that kills Sam, sending Charlie into a prolonged funk.

He puts off his Stanford scholarship and takes a job as a caretaker at the cemetery where Sam is buried. Every day, after listening to his sardonic English buddy (Augustus Prew) and wiping bird droppings off the gravestones, he heads out at sunset to practise baseball with his dead sibling.

Charlie St. Cloud was adapted from a 2005 novel by former Good Morning America executive producer Ben Sherwood. The New Age fable about grief and letting go has been transferred from its original Massachusetts setting to the Pacific Northwest (played by British Columbia), a realm of forest and mountains and teen angst already well-known to Twilight fans.

The director is Burr Steers, who directed Efron before in last year’s age-switch comedy 17 Again, as well as the superior 2002 black comedy Igby Goes Down. With Charlie St. Cloud, it’s as if Steers has put a muzzle on his sardonic impulses. Efron, meanwhile, poses and wisecracks competently, but is unpersuasive as a brooder. At best, he stares blankly off in the distance and you forget about the story and wonder what kind of shade those eyes are. When Charlie starts hitting the Jack Daniels, you can’t help feeling the bottle should have a rubber nipple on it.

On the subject of nipples, we see Efron’s torso as often as his tears. There’s nothing subtle in the way the emotional strings are yanked here: Romantic kisses appear to be set against sunsets of oil painted on velvet; the piano tinkles and orchestra swells to augment every emotional peak. At its most mawkish moment, Ray Liotta pops up as the emergency medic who brought Charlie back to life. Now, dying of cancer, he meets the young man again to tell him that God brought him back to life for a reason.

God (who occasionally seems to stare down on the forest glades from high aerial shots) decides to reveal his purpose by introducing the comely Tess (Canadian actress Amanda Crew), Charlie’s former sailing rival and grown-up hottie. First, though, their schedules conflict. She’s about to embark on a six-month, around-the-world sailing trip, and he’s got his nightly baseball practice with his dead brother to attend to.

All this sets us up for a “twist” ending, but if you don’t predict it a half-hour before its revelation, you surely must have nodded off during baseball practice.


Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
Cathy Jakicic

Zac Efron will probably break out of the heartthrob mold eventually, but "Charlie St. Cloud" is not going to be the one to do it for him.

The languidly paced drama is directed by Burr Steers, who also made Efron's much more entertaining role-reversal comedy "17 Again," as well as the quirky teen-centric comedy-drama "Igby Goes Down."

On "Charlie," Steers spends too much time lovingly showcasing the majesty of the Pacific coast, sailing and Efron's blue eyes and impressive physique to allow the story to ever gain enough momentum.

That said, all of the above are gorgeously photographed, and Efron does show some acting potential. But he's not given much of a chance to demonstrate more than a piercing gaze and some of the best crying since Demi Moore in "Ghost."

The story, based on Ben Sherwood's 2004 novel, is a tearjerker about a high school sailing star who is grief-stricken after the death of his younger brother. Instead of going to college, he takes a job as caretaker of the cemetery in which his brother is buried, and meets his little brother each night to play catch.

Eventually, he reconnects with a girl from his glory days, and a sailing accident forces him to reconnect with the rest of his life.

"Charlie" is at its - and Efron's - best when things lighten up. Efron and Charlie Tahan, as his doomed younger brother, have a genuine, down-to-earth chemistry that manages to cut through the veil of tears. Efron's buddy, played by Augustus Prew, offers much-needed laughs during his too few appearances.

Also barely there are Kim Basinger as Efron's mom and Ray Liotta as the paramedic who saved his life. Basinger isn't much more than an extra, and Liotta is a walking embodiment of the movie's clichéd "seize the day" message.

They - and Efron - all deserve better.

Two stars

National Post
Vanessa Farquharson

If M. Night Shyamalan wrote a Harlequin romance and Disney adapted it to the screen, it might very well resemble the unpleasantness that is Charlie St. Cloud.

A disturbing mix of schmaltzy music and sepia-tinted everything; absent father figures and men who are constantly weeping or constantly citing E.E. Cummings poetry (not that there’s anything wrong with weeping or E.E. Cummings poetry); overt Christian proselytizing and Zac Efron, who not only sees dead people but makes out with them in the graveyard -- this film is unsettling on many levels.

At first, it’s not so horrible. We begin with Charlie (Efron) and his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) in the midst of a high-school sailing race, which they go on to win. They pull their best “sexy faces” for the camera -- which, in Efron’s case, almost comes too naturally -- and there’s some cute banter between the siblings that drifts between sarcasm and sincerity, but feels convincing in either case.

Granted, Efron’s perfectly styled hair appears to be miraculously resistant to the 30-knot winds and there’s a brief moment of awkward dialogue when Sam gazes out at the sailboats in the distance and asks, “Where do you think they’re going?” to which Charlie replies, “Everywhere ... [pause]. They’re going everywhere.” But these minor embarrassments can be overlooked, in the scheme of things.

Those who’ve seen the trailer or read the book know that Sam dies early on, so it’s no surprise when the car accident happens. It is, however, somewhat of a surprise to see Ray Liotta pop up, acting not as a villain but a responsible paramedic named Florio (unless of course his character is actually a villainous paramedic named Florio, but this doesn’t seem to be the case).

Overall, though, by the half-hour mark, St. Cloud’s plot and characters remain believable.

But then. Oh, then.

Then comes Charlie’s decision to not accept his sailing scholarship to an Ivy League university but instead take a job as the groundskeeper at his local cemetery (hottest groundskeeper ever!), where he also opts to reside, seeing as his dead brother is buried there, his dad isn’t around and his mom (Kim Basinger) has up and left to Portland, Ore.

As one might guess, living and working in a graveyard isn’t the best way to cope with the sudden death of a loved one, but Charlie sees nothing wrong in his weekly commitment to play catch with Sam’s ghost in the nearby forest. Nor does it seem out of the ordinary to have a chat with his old friend Sully (Dave Franco, the younger brother of actor James), despite the fact that Sully died while fighting in the military.

When he bumps into Tess (Amanda Crew) and sees that she has a still-fresh wound on her forehead from a sailing accident, savvy audiences will know to suspect that she’s actually dead. Charlie, however, hasn’t put two and two together, so he simply invites her over for dinner, gets her drunk and then chases her into the cemetery in the middle of the night, where they proceed to make love in an incredibly PG-rated montage that begins with Efron very slowly removing his shirt in the glow of the moon (he will either remove his shirt or get it wet at least four more times).

Even if one ignores the pseudo-necrophilic aspect of this, it’s impossible to forgive what comes next: an embarrassing encounter with a now cancer-stricken Florio who says God has given Charlie a second chance; a token British sidekick named Alistair (Augustus Prew) who provides not-quite-comic relief; and finally, when Charlie concludes that Tess is not yet dead but unconscious somewhere on her boat in the ocean, he sets out to find her -- at which point Sam decides to finally accept his own death and walk toward the light, transform himself into a shooting star and fly precisely in the direction where Tess is stranded, at the exact moment when Charlie looks out across the waves and silently weeps. At sunset, of course.

We’re not even done yet. Cue an unexpectedly erotic scene in which Charlie attempts to revive Tess by ripping off her shirt, then his, and embracing her as though they were in bed together. And finally, days later, when she’s recovered but slightly confused by recent dreams of hot cemetery sex with an abnormally good-looking groundskeeper, he says, “They’re not dreams. They’re memories” -- at which point they embrace and sail off into the umpteenth sunset together.

It’s hard to believe that this comes from the same director who gave us Igby Goes Down, the morose indie hit of 2002 with Kieran Culkin, or even How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, which wasn’t great but at least had some edge to it. It’s unfortuante, too, because underneath Efron’s ridiculously handsome exterior is a decent actor with the ability to portray nuance and torment. Most likely, he’ll have to grow a shaggy beard and start eating a lot of junk food in order to be cast in any serious role -- or at least a role that doesn’t revolve around a series of shirt-removals.

One star

Screen Crave
Justine Ciarrocchi

Recess is over for former High School Musical phenomenon, Zac Efron, and this weekend’s Universal Pictures release of Charlie St. Cloud marks his third major picture in the big leagues. Based on the highly acclaimed novel by Ben Sherwood, Burr Steers (17 Again, How To Lose A Guy In 10 Days), directs this slightly melodramatic but well intentioned romantic drama.

The Good:

* Zac Efron: Yes, universe, the kid can act. Efron surprised both critics and audiences alike with his recent performances in 17 Again and Me And Orson Welles, though his role in C.S.C. marks a pivotal point in his foresee-ably lengthy career. Efron’s a natural. He’s at ease behind a camera and responds to the work with honesty and familiarity. He’s well on his way to abandoning the adolescent affectation of his High School Musical projects.
* Charlie Tahan: Despite Efron’s obvious glow of a presence, Charlie Tahan (Sam) is the real gem here: he brings some unexpected, and unwavering emotional depth to the relationship that really strengthens the brotherly chemistry.
* Visual: Enrique Chediak, the film’s DP, brought his A-game. Every shot was aesthetically pleasing – from a visual standpoint, C.S.C. was quite picturesque.

The Good/Bad:

* The Message: Take advantage of what’s in front of you, live life to the fullest, and a handful of other overused cliches comprise the “message” of this film. However, the surplus of tears, whining, and earth-shattering pain reduces any possibility of embracing the aforementioned cliches…it’s just far too over the top.

The Bad:

* Serious Sap: Burr is pushing the sentimental envelope with this one. C.S.C. borderlines grief overload: baseball with your dead brother in the graveyard for five years? Charlie is exchanging a scholarship to Stanford for a grave-digging gig to hone his “sixth sense”? Get a hold of yourself, kid.
* Amanda Crew: This Canadian recruit failed to impress. Her performance chops weren’t quite up to par with those of the rest of the cast, and she appeared to be very aware of her weak and less than confident acting choices.


Zac Efron fans will swoon like school girls, but on the whole, it’s nothing to write home about. Enjoy it on DVD in a few months.

6.5 out of 10

Newark Star Ledger
Stephen Witty

Generally, in a weepie, it's not a good sign if the people on screen are crying more than the audience is.

So things do not seem to bode well for "Charlie St. Cloud," a new tween melodrama starring Zac Efron.

In the course of little more than an hour-and-a-half, the perpetually damp thespian weeps from his left eye, then his right. He tears up manfully. He blubbers uncontrollably. He bathes his pretty face in a sheen of lachrymose moisturizer.

I sat there with cheeks so arid, Omar Sharif could have led a caravan across them.

It's not that I don't enjoy a good cry; it's that the operative word is "good." And "Charlie St. Cloud," from its awful title to its annoyingly perfect photography, is a schmaltzy sniffle at best.

The story is based on a novel by Ben Sherwood, a former television producer who seems to have read an awful lot of Nicholas Sparks novels. Like those popular books, his contains a seaside setting, young lovers, a tragic loss and a heavy dose of everything-always-works-out-for-the-best philosophizing.

Unlike with Sparks, though, you never get the feeling that this author believes in any of it.

Instead, the story, as adapted by several other hands (who made the characters younger) and directed by Burr Steers (who last made Efron's "17 Again"), just feels like a clumsy bit of juvenile manipulation.

Sunlight slants through trees. A couple shares gentle kisses. Zac Efron takes his shirt off. Plaintive pop plays on the soundtrack. Adult characters provide exposition. Zac Efron takes his shirt off. Falling stars streak across the sky. A dark storm brews.

And, yeah, here come Zac's pecs again . . .

The heart of the story is a deliberately unscary ghost story, with Efron unable to let go of his dead kid brother. He meets the spirit every day at sunset, to play catch in the graveyard. There's also a rich girl, and some mild town-and-gown class conflict.

But none of it really develops into anything, no matter how much Efron turns on the waterworks or pares down his wardrobe. Amanda Crew is stubbornly unappealing as his love interest, and Augustus Prew (isn't that a Lemony Snicket villain?) is miserably unfunny as the supposed comic relief.

Better is Charlie Tahan as the departed Sam. He's an easy, unaffected young actor and a steady presence throughout the film -- unlike Kim Basinger, who after two quick scenes is reduced to a voice on a long-distance phone call, or Ray Liotta, who is given the thankless job of stating (and re-stating) the film's theme.

Which is what, exactly? Life is for the living? Death is for the dead? Tears are for peeling onions? I was never sure, particularly since the one fact the movie manages to firmly establish about Charlie -- he sees dead people -- it ends up sort of throwing out the window.

But hey, if you want to see Zac Efron cry, "Charlie St. Cloud" awaits. And if you want to see me cry, just make me watch it again.


Detroit News
Tom Long

"Charlie St. Cloud" lacks bite.

Which doesn't mean the film itself completely bites. It doesn't, in fact, it just plays things very safe, targeting Zac Efron's tween fans with a vaguely supernatural romance that's sure to elicit sighs and promote pin-up posters, which is fine.

But the film is a bit of a comedown for Efron after playing the lead in last year's fine "Me and Orson Welles." It's even a bit more milquetoast than his last film, the occasionally racy "17 Again."

Instead, it plays into his whole teen idol thing when he should probably be pushing against it.

Efron is the title character, a champion sailor heading off to Stanford from his sleepy fishing village. He has a precocious 11-year-old brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), who idolizes him.

After director Burr Steers establishes the jocular sibling bond, he jumps right into the film's central tragedy -- Sam is killed by a drunken driver. Charlie is grievously injured as well and flat lines, but miraculously comes back to life.

From this point it appears that Charlie has cracked, because when we flash forward five years we see his Stanford dreams evaporated, and he's now the caretaker at the local cemetery.

Which is convenient, since he spends every afternoon playing baseball and talking with Sam's ghost, or his imagination. You have to wait and find out.

Of course, a beautiful girl (Amanda Crew) comes along and romantic distress ensues. Will she break up his afternoons with his dead brother, or will Sam cling to Charlie and ruin his future?

The problem is, by this time you don't really care much. "Charlie St. Cloud" sees dead people. Big deal. It's been done before. Where's a vampire when you need one?

From The Detroit News:


Television without Pity
Mindy Monez

Charlie St. Cloud is a movie that attempts to be a trippy melodrama about a guy (Zac Efron) who might be crazy, might be a ghost, might be alive and living in a town full of ghosts, might be a ghost living in a town full of ghosts, might also be a telepath, might just be dreaming, might be on drugs, might be Haley Joel Osment from The Sixth Sense, or maybe none of those things. No one knows, because this movie's screenplay has so many holes and contradictions that I can't even really tell you what happened in it because none of it makes any sense whatsoever.

That isn't to say I wasn't entertained. Zac Efron is a ridiculously charming screen presence, and I honestly think his performance as a tortured... thing, going through... something, was a good one. I mean, I believed he was really upset over whatever the events of this movie are, even if I have no idea what they are. I don't know why I'm worried about spoiling Charlie St. Cloud for you, but in case you want to go into it totally unspoiled for some god forsaken reason, here's your warning: Spoiler alert, but I need to go over some of the things that happen in this movie. Read on if you dare.

Zefron seems to hallucinate conversations with ghosts, but then the ending shows him dressed in white, walking into "the light," so it seems like he might have been a ghost the whole time. Fine, but he also has sex with a ghost in the movie, then it turns out she's not a ghost, she's just a girl in trouble who's contacting him for help telepathically. But then Zefron and the telepathy/hallucination version of her go out on a boat ride, but afterward, Zefron finds the boat they used locked up in a shed, all decrepit, and he realizes it's never been refurbished like it was when they were just riding on it. So, he's a ghost right? If he's human, how could he and his telepathy telegram go on an invisible boat ride? If he's human, he's bound by physics, it's not like he was gliding on the water on goddamn air.

But then they go into town together and talk to people, but no one can see her. So maybe the whole town is ghosts, which would explain why they can't see her but can see him, because she's not actually dead, and it's already been well-documented that Zefron talks to ghosts all the time, which also explains why he can see both the townspeople and her. But then, Zefron's dead brother can see her (and so can Zefron, if he is a ghost, which is dubious at best, at this point), so there goes that theory. He also does save her in the end, by hugging her to keep her hypothermia at bay, so -- do ghosts have body heat? Also, when you're a ghost, you can just decide when you want to go to heaven, apparently, the process of which entails you transforming into a shooting star. A shooting star! Which, when I think about it, is what Zefron's brother did, but not what he did in the end, so what the hell is happening here? And that's not even all of it. I can't even fault the movie for not playing by its own rules, because it never even bothered to make any in the first place. It's just freaky thing after freaky thing after freaky thing, and there's no way to decipher what any of it means.

I feel for Zac Efron, I really do. It's frustrating trying to break out of being a tween idol, especially when you actually are a talented actor -- and I do believe he has the potential to be a very good actor some day -- but this crap is just not the way to do it. A few more projects like this and he's going to have to work the Lifetime movie circuit until he amasses enough scandals to get his own reality show. Take some advice from Troy and get'cha head in the game, Zac.

Tags: reviews: cstc
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