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Charlie St. Cloud: When Zac climbs to the serious rung, tears are sure to follow

Charlie Tahan, left, and Zac Efron in Charlie St. Cloud.

Diyah Pera

1 out of 4 stars


Charlie St. Cloud

  • Directed by Burr Steers
  • Written by Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick
  • Starring Zac Efron, Amanda Crew and Charlie Tahan
  • Classification: PG

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.

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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.

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Film critic

Liam Lacey is a film critic for The Globe and Mail. More

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