[Screen It]

"CHARLIE ST. CLOUD"
(2010) (Zac Efron, Amanda Crew) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Drama: A young man is unable to move on with his life after his younger brother is killed in a car accident that he survives.
PLOT:
Charlie St. Cloud (ZAC EFRON) and his little brother Sam (CHARLIE TAHAN) are champion sailboat racers in the small seaside town of Quincy Harbor. Sam, though, is a bit wistful that this will be his last summer with his brother at home, as Charlie has been awarded a scholarship at Stanford University. Their mother, Claire (KIM BASINGER), couldn't be more proud.

Tragedy strikes when a drunk driver causes an accident that kills Sam and almost kills Charlie. Grief-stricken, Charlie gives up his scholarship and spends the next five years taking care of the graveyard with his friend Alistair (AUGUSTUS PREW) where Sam is buried. His days consist of tending to the graveyard's grounds, shooing away the annoying geese, and meeting the ghost of Sam every day in the same secluded spot in the woods to play, hang out, and talk about life.

Charlie starts to come out of his shell when a former classmate named Tess (AMANDA CREW) returns to town and is revealed to be a champion boater. After a chance meeting with Florio (RAY LIOTTA), the paramedic who saved his life years earlier, Charlie starts to suspect there was a reason why he was given a second chance at life. He soon learns what that reason is.

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
My wife can always tell when I have just seen a movie I liked. Our ritual is to take a few moments upon my return home from press screenings and tell her whether the flick was good or not. It's basically a recap session. Often, if I like the movie, I'll refer to the various characters by their names in the film, not as the actors who play them.

So, in this respect, I liked the couple of hours I spent with Charlie and Sam St. Cloud; their mom, Claire; and Tess, the girl of Charlie's dreams. They're good people, and I was interested in how it would all turn out for them. That's one of the marks of a successful movie.

"Charlie St. Cloud" is a likable film. It doesn't aim to wow you with special effects or creep you out with cheap scare tactics. Yeah, it tries to jerk a few tears. I mean, it's about a young man whose life crumbles when he survives a car accident that his little brother does not. Not exactly summer popcorn movie material. Charlie St. Cloud is the young man, and he is played by teenage heartthrob and former "High School Musical" star Zac Efron. If you already hate the kid because the teeny-boppers like him or because he's just too much of a pretty boy for your tastes, this film is not going to turn you around.

But I'm from the '80s, and the guy reminds me a lot of Rob Lowe from back then. The dreamy eyes, the perfect hair, the understated demeanor. Girls LOVED Rob Lowe back in the day, and he made several films just for them. But there was a decent actor there and more than a decade later, roles on TV's "The West Wing" and "Brothers and Sisters" proved it. Can the same be said for Efron? Who knows? But he's well directed here by Burr Steers, and the role is deceptively hard.

By that I mean, Charlie St. Cloud is essentially an inactive character for much of the film's running time, and Efron has to keep him interesting enough for us to follow his story. Charlie is a guy who has essentially put himself on a shelf following the death of his brother (Charlie Tahan, reminding me of a very young Corey Haim guess I'm just having '80s flashbacks. I blame the East Coast heat). He has given up a scholarship to Stanford. Instead, he's opted to spend years as the caretaker of the cemetery where his brother is buried. Oh, and he can talk to dead people, too, as witnessed by his daily meetings at a secluded spot in the woods where he and the ghost of Sam play catch, act silly in the rain, and chase geese with remote-control airplanes.

But he's garnered the reputation as the "weird guy" among the local residents of his seaside hometown. He hasn't formed a real human connection in five years, and he doesn't appear to want one either. But, of course, a girl can change all that. And that girl is Tess, a former classmate-turned-sailing-prodigy (played by Amanda Crew great name for a sailing flick actually).

I could tell you the rest, but you can probably guess how the flick eventually plays out. Actually, there are a couple of twists to the inevitable conclusion. But this movie isn't about surprises or innovative storytelling. It's about life and loss, friendship and brotherhood, attachment and letting go. Schmaltzy? Yup. But not stifling. And the film really benefits from some gorgeous location shooting in British Columbia, specifically the town of Gibsons.

Admittedly, my expectations for this movie were low going in. And I will say that I don't think Charlie St. Cloud is strong enough to warrant the film being named after him. A more generic title like "Letting Go" or "Come Sail Away" (actually those are horrible titles, too, but you know what I mean) might have served the film better. Still, the story made me feel and reminded me of some of the losses I've suffered in my life. The sap in me gives this a solid 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed July 27, 2010 / Posted July 30, 2010


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