What’s go­ing on here? We haven’t the fog­gi­est, but Zac Efron’s still cute

Austin American-Statesman - - FRONT PAGE - By Joe Gross

‘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.’

Con­tin­ued from D1

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.


Diyah Pera

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.

Diyah pera

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