SORRY ‘CHARLIE,’ EFRON’S EFFORT A DUD
What’s going on here? We haven’t the foggiest, but Zac Efron’s still cute
‘C harlie St. Cloud” is the weirdest movie of 2010. By far.
“Inception?” Please. By comparison, “Inception” is a model of narrative clarity and thematic focus. It is “Toy Story 3” compared with the emotional fogbank that is “Charlie St. Cloud.”
Part tearjerker, part “Sixth Sense,” part weak attempt to pass off Vancouver as the Massachusetts coast, “Charlie St. Cloud” is the story of the title character played by Zac Efron. Charlie’s a townie day student in a world of rich prep-schoolers, the sailing champ with a bright future. After a horrible accident, he spends his evenings playing catch with the ghost of his Red Sox-obsessed little brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), for whose death Charlie is somewhat responsible — if they hadn’t been sneaking out of the house, the drunk driver wouldn’t have hit them, that sort of thing. He catches the eye of sailing rival Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew), but he has little idea how to act around her. Unless they are talking about flukes.
It is also ostensibly a serious-acting vehicle for Efron, megastar of the tween phenomenon “High School Musical,” he of the electric blue eyes and well-defined chest. Though Efron is clearly a top-notch singer and dancer, he doesn’t do either here and (spoiler) takes his shirt off but once.
Director Burr Steers helmed the oddly underrated “Igby Goes Down,” which, in spite of a snicker-worthy name, was a strong, well-acted portrait of a wealthy family in crisis. But there are bad choices at every turn in “Charlie,” every scene raising more questions than it answers, and not in that fun, “Duuuude...” kind of way.
Charlie Tahan, left, and Zac Efron play brothers whose relationship before and after the younger boy’s death forms the center of the puzzling permutations of ‘Charlie St. Cloud.’
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Why does one of Charlie’s townie pals (Augustus Prew) have a London accent as thick as clotted cream? Is he an exchange student? On the run from Interpol? We never find out.
Why does Tess find it so odd that Sam was such a huge Sox fan? Lady, you live in Massachusetts.
Why are those ostensible East Coast woods filled with enormous, wet trees, like the kind Bella Swan should be running through? Oh, right, we’re in Vancouver.
Hiccups like this are distracting from the story, like typos scattered throughout a novel.
Again and again, relationships are never properly established before hitting points of conflict. Why does Tess’ sailing coach Tink (Donal Logue, it’s always nice to see you and I hope this check bought you something nice) have such a personal problem with Charlie? If he’s the town nut, he’s the town nut for everyone. And how are they able to patch it up so fast when they do?
In a key scene, Charlie seems to get angry, overly so for the size of the offense, at the thenliving Sam for being minutes late for a catch. But why? Does Charlie resent taking care of his brother? Does he have something else to do? Does he like lecturing people? These are all very different things.
Or maybe he doesn’t get overly angry. It’s hard to tell. Efron’s forced to punch way above his weight class here. Playing the potentially insane is deceptively complicated. We are never sure whether this is “really happening” or whether this is an allegory for a possible post-traumatic, psychotic break. If it’s the former, the movie is a mawkish fantasy. If it’s the other, which is more interesting, too much of the movie’s back half doesn’t add up.
No, most of the time Efron aims those baby blues out a window and doesn’t let us know what he’s thinking, which is not the same as being conflicted. There’s an inadvertently funny scene (one of many) where Efron sits down opposite Ray Liotta, who plays a St. Jude-loving paramedic who revives Charlie after the crash, with one generation of piercing blue eyes emoting into another. Way to pass the torch, Ray!
There are the seeds of an interesting picture here, a story of guilt and redemption and the madness of grief. But the tonal errors stack up until you can’t see anything but the movie’s own confusion. And if Hollywood will please stop telling us the Canadian coast looks like Marblehead, Mass., that would be great, too. Rating: PG-13 for language, sexuality, action. Running time: 1 hour, 49 minutes. Theaters: Barton Creek, Cinemark Cedar Park, Cinemark Galleria, Cinemark Round Rock, Cinemark Southpark Meadows, Gateway, Highland, Lakeline, Metropolitan, Starplex, Tinseltown Pflugerville, Westgate.
St. Cloud (Zac Efron) is dealing with life as the local kid in a prep school town and the death of his brother in this confusing take on coming of age.