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Aug032010

CHARLIE ST. CLOUD shows Zac Efron can act, and take his shirt off (review)

Rating:  (Decent)

Charlie St. Cloud is a troubled guy inside a troubled movie. He's stricken by guilt over his brother's death and can't let go; the film is stricken by a studio mandate to show as much of Zac Efron's chest and abs as possible, and struggles to sincerely tell its tale. Luckily for Director Burr Steers, Efron is more than a pretty face and body; he can act and takes his role more seriously than your average mouseketeer.

Five years is a long time to play catch

Charlie's (Efron's) life was spared when he and his 12-year-old brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) crashed on the highway. Unwilling to let go of his brother, he stays in town for the next five years, giving up a sailing scholarship to Stanford and watching his friends and family slip away. At his brother's funeral, he refuses to throw his Sam's baseball glove into the grave. Instead of letting go, he holds on. Charlie's guilt is literal; he meets up to play catch with Sam's ghost every day at dusk, ever honoring a promise he gave the boy before his death. 

Efron plays an outcast well. Girls find Charlie strangely attractive even though most everyone in town thinks he's gone crazy. I mean, who wouldn't wonder about a guy who buys a toy airplane and then flies it with his dead brother. Luckily, Charlie keeps his visions a secret. Sam isn't the only dead person he sees. Ghosts of his friends stop by his graveyard quite regularly. Usually seeing dead people tips off a bad movie, but like Shyamalan's Sixth Sense and Swayze's Ghost, Marc Platt and Ben Sherwoods' screenplay sails the line between life and death for good reason and comes out better for it. 

Do me a favor and pop that shirt off...

There are mechanical moments that don't work well. When Efron walks out of a river in a wet, see-through shirt, we wonder why the shot is necessary. When he meets a lovely girl, she takes off his shirt, but no one seems to care to remove hers--I suppose that would defeat the point. Later in the film, we see Efron literally forced to rip his vest off underwater.

Then there's Sam. He is a temperamental little ghost. Before he dies, Charlie promises to play catch with him everyday for one summer. That's about 90 days. But when Charlie is late to a single game of catch after five years, he has a hissy fit. Get over it, kid. You're dead.

Back 2 Good 

Still, some groan-worthy elements at the beginning, like that damn sailboat Charlie refuses to ride anymore, eventually drew me in because, well, I cared about Charlie. As much as Steers forced me to sit through moonlit silhouette kisses and campy brother-to-dead-brother bonding moments, I cared because I want Charlie to be okay, thanks mostly to Efron's performance.

Charlie used to be a champion sailer, but hasn't ridden in ages; I want him to get back on that boat. I know he's gonna, but I want it to happen. When he meets a girl (Amanda Crew), I want them to get together because she seems like a good match for him. When his friend (Alistair Wooley) asks him to his anniversary party, I hope he'll show up. Surrounding Charlie are sincere characters with sincere roles and sincere motives--refreshing for a drama like Cloud.

Charlie isn't above an endearing sense of humor. In the bar, he jokes with a couple girls that he might be a werewolf and they're lucky it isn't a full moon. When he meets a jerk-off from high school that makes fun of Sam's death, he takes the time to ask if his insurance covers dental, then punches him square in the jaw. Nice! 

There's gotta be a reason

Charlie St. Cloud is a choppy ride. It has more than its share of campy moments and shirtless exchanges. Still, there are far worse things young women could spend their time and money on. Whether you go to see Efron's abs, Ben Sherwood's novel, or a good drama, you'll leave knowing Zac Efron has the potential to be a lot more than a modern day mouseketeer. 

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