THE DEATH AND LIFE OF CHARLIE ST. CLOUD (PG): On General Release Friday October 8th
Zac Efron is currently a man trying to shed his image as the patron saint of fawning teenage youth and establish himself as a serious actor. To that end he recently turned down the lead in the remake of Footloose that would have revisited the familiar musical territory in which he’s so firmly established (High School Musical).
He might have picked a better movie than Charlie St. Cloud for his first leg up into the world of “serious” acting because while his performance is easily the best thing about it, it’s not going to be remembered as anything more than a throwaway piece of romantic tat.
Charlie St. Cloud likes nothing more than racing his boat out on the wide-open reaches of the Pacific Northwest. He wins the local sailing championship and with it a scholarship to Stamford. While waiting for college to start, he helps his baseball-obsessed little brother Sam practise one hour every day at sunrise – a solemn promise that both brothers agree to keep.
But when the two of them are involved in a horrific car crash, Sam is killed leaving Charlie distraught. But he soon realises that his brush with death has granted him the ability to see the dead and he still keeps his word – practising with Sam everyday at sundown in the woods.
Years go past and Charlie can’t seem to move on with his life, getting a job cleaning headstones in local graveyard with only a cringe-inducing Russell Brand sound-a-like (Augustus Prew) for company, until he meets Tess (Amanda Crew), who dreams of sailing around the world. But as Charlie struggles with finally moving on with his life, Tess might not be all that she seems.
Zac Efron does have an undeniable charm – his chiselled good looks and demeanour make it very hard to dislike him. For the ladies, there are plenty of shots of Zac in various states of undress, soaked to the skin wearing white clothing or staring into the middle distance like a catalogue model. However, beneath his obvious physical appeal is a guy who can actually act – but Charlie St. Cloud is a waste of his abilities – he shines out like a diamond in a nickel engagement ring.
Charlie St. Cloud while enjoyable in parts is often marred by clichéd over-sentimentality, hackneyed dialogue, and direction which starts to edge dangerously close to Nicholas Sparks territory, especially considering that everyone appears be a spoilt rich white kid complaining despite their obvious privilege.
If anything Charlie St Cloud’s script and direction is frustrating. It would have been more refreshing to see Efron struggling with his connection with the ghostly Sam – it’s unclear at first whether or not he can see actually see the dead or whether he’s simply hallucinating. This could have been a meditation on the effect that loss has on a person and Efron would have been perfect for this – a preppy, well adjusted young man who falls foul to the horrors of mental instability in the wake of a tragedy. Unfortunately, that never happens and director Burr Steers has gone for the safe option – an obvious climax, which while seaworthy, offers few surprises.