Universal // 2010 // 100 Minutes // Rated PG-13
Reviewed by Judge Clark Douglas // November 10th, 2010
Life is for living.
"I'll be there. I promise."
Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron, High School Musical) and his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan, Nights in Rodanthe) love to sail. Every year, they participate in boating competitions with the residents of their coastal town. Though Charlie and Sam are prone to frustrate each other at times in the way that siblings so often do, they have a great deal of regard for each other. Sam has long held Charlie in high esteem, and Charlie tries to be a role model for his brother.
One night, Sam is killed in a car accident. Charlie nearly dies as well, but is revived by a skilled paramedic named Florio Ferrente (Ray Liotta, Goodfellas). Charlie is understandably devastated by this tragic turn of events, but a surprise is waiting for him: Sam is able to communicate with Charlie from beyond the grave. It seems that Charlie's near-death experience has given him an ability to communicate with the dead from time to time. He promises Sam that he will meet him at the same spot every day to visit and play a game of catch.
The daily routine continues for years, as Charlie takes a job at the cemetery and abandons any ideas of leaving his home town. However, when a girl named Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew, The Haunting in Connecticut) enters Charlie's life, he becomes distracted. He accidentally neglects his sessions with Sam, which makes his brother's ghost very jealous and irritable. Soon, Charlie's going to have to make an important decision: does he remain loyal to his dead brother, or does he move on and enjoy his own life?
I know Zac Efron is the sort of guy who's generally lumped in with other fad-of-the-year young celebrities -- he's often made fun of in the same way that people make fun of Robert Pattison and Justin Bieber -- but I think he deserves a little credit. Yes, the High School Musical flicks are kind of insufferable, but Efron's since demonstrated that he has some solid dramatic instincts. Somewhat refreshingly, he hasn't attempted to fight typecasting by taking on laughably gritty roles, but rather is taking parts that push him just a little bit further each time. While Charlie St. Cloud isn't a particularly good film, Efron brings a surprising amount of weight to the title role, making what could have been an incredibly irritating film merely a disappointing one.
Charlie St. Cloud is essentially a hybrid of Nicholas Sparks novels and sentimental episodes of the The Twilight Zone. While the latter element brings just enough intrigue to the proceedings to keep the former from becoming too grating, too much of the film feels aimless. The 100-minute running time may not sound particularly excessive, but this is a story that could have been told just as effectively in a half-hour. Many scenes are devoted to characters quietly pondering their difficult situations, but the story doesn't have enough substance to give this material any significance. As a result, it feels like the movie is simply stalling between important plot points; trying to pad the running time between genuinely noteworthy moments. I suppose if you're the sort of person who's drawn to watching attractive young actors wander around the woods with melancholy expressions on their faces, Charlie St. Cloud will prove a fascinating experience. Personally, I kept waiting for the film to actually do something.
The subject matter is actually quite similar to some of the material from Clint Eastwood's Hereafter, which also explores the lives of characters able to communicate with people who have recently passed away. Hereafter moves at a similarly slow, introspective pace, but Eastwood makes this work by A) ensuring that the viewer has plenty to chew on during the film's down time, and B) crafting the film with visually compelling, artful tenderness that viewers are likely to appreciate. Alas, director Burr Steers (who helmed the excellent Igby Goes Down and the so-so Efron vehicle 17 Again) directs Charlie St. Cloud in a blandly pleasant, generic manner. There are moments where the film seems to be trying to stretch itself, but it quickly settles back into that, "slightly sad, kind of warm, vaguely mysterious" rut.
Again, if the film has a saving grace, it's Efron's performance. The young actor gives very underwhelming scenes a valiant effort, raising the quality of the production on numerous occasions. Charlie Tahan is decent as Sam, but the character is too thinly-written to leave a big impression. The same applies to the love interest played Amanda Crew. Some impressive names turn up in supporting roles (Ray Liotta, Kim Basinger, Donal Logue), but none of them have much screen time. Basically, it's up to Efron to carry the film. While the actor is incapable of redeeming the movie, he certainly makes it better than it could have been.
At the very least, Charlie St. Cloud looks good in hi-def thanks to an impressive 1080p/2.40:1 transfer. The film's warm, inviting aesthetic is particularly pleasing in hi-def, and some of the coastal shots are simply gorgeous. Detail is strong throughout, while blacks are satisfactorily deep. While the image doesn't quite pop off the screen, it's certainly a lush, attractive transfer. Audio is also solid, though there are times where the mournful pop songs (which the soundtrack relies on a little much) seem cranked up a tad loud in contrast to everything else. Otherwise, it's a very good mix. The sailing sequences are particularly fantastic, offering a rather immersive experience for the listener. The supplements are headlined by a low-key feature commentary from director Burr Steers, followed by a trio of Efron-centric featurettes: "On Location with Zac Efron" (12 minutes), "Zac Efron: Leading Man" (7 minutes) and "The In-Between World" (10 minutes). You also get a handful of deleted scenes, a "My Scenes" option and BD-Live.
Charlie St. Cloud is an inoffensive supernatural drama that simply fails to make a significant emotional impact. Despite a solid Efron performance, the movie just doesn't work.
Review content copyright © 2010 Clark Douglas; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* 2.40:1 Non-Anamorphic (1080p)
* DTS HD 5.1 Master Audio (English)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (French)
* DTS 5.1 Surround (Spanish)
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English, Descriptive)
* English (SDH)
Running Time: 100 Minutes
Release Year: 2010
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13
* Deleted Scenes
* My Scenes