I hate to see a good actor stuck in an abysmal movie. It’s happened throughout cinema history: someone deserving of much more working with material that is utterly unsalvageable. That person may even give a good performance, but the failures of the movie are so prevalent that his vigor and passion gets lost. Such is the case with the unbearable Charlie St. Cloud. Despite the bad rap he gets due to his roles in the High School Musical films, Zac Efron is a good actor and has shown that he has the talent to be a major star for many years to come, as evidenced by his roles in 17 Again and Me and Orson Welles. But his latest cinematic foray is a schmaltzy, confused and laughable film that easily earns a spot on my worst of the year list.
Efron plays the title character Charlie. He has just graduated high school and has a full ride to Stanford in the Fall for his athletic passion in competitive yacht racing. His younger brother Sam, played by Charlie Tahan, is his wingman and sticks with him through thick and thin. They have a strong bond, but one night while babysitting Sam, Charlie gets in a car wreck that leaves his life in the balance and, unfortunately, kills Sam. However, he dies for a short period of time before being revived and can now see dead people, including his now deceased brother. Shortly before the wreck, he promised to practice baseball with Sam every day until he left for school and because of his newfound ability, he plans on keeping that promise, but a pretty girl named Tess, played by Amanda Crew puts a kink in those plans.
Charlie St. Cloud doesn’t so much have a narrative arc as it does go through a sequence of Hallmark greeting cards. It begins with “Best Brother,” followed by “Missing You” and is capped off with “I Love You and Will Never Forget You.” Instead of progressing from scene to scene, it feels like it's reading the front of a card before opening to the inside where the emotional punch lies.
But the problem is that none of those punches work. For instance, it’s hard to find sympathy in your heart for poor Sam and his grieving brother because the film never gives you that chance. It accelerates through the prologue where Sam is killed off and buried. Before this terrible incident even sinks in, Sam is standing back in front of Charlie throwing the ball around as if nothing ever happened. You don’t miss him the way Charlie does because he never seems to be gone.
So what you’re instead left with are cheesy scenes between the two that fail to elicit goose bumps, much less tears. Stacked on top of that is Tess and Charlie's ridiculous romance that has a twist that was interesting 11 years ago in The Sixth Sense, but now feels outdated, followed by what can only be described as re-twist that doesn’t follow the film’s established rules. Toss in the paramedic prophet with cancer and you have a movie desperate to sadden the audience by any means necessary, no matter how manipulative or contrived.
What’s funny, however, is that Charlie St. Cloud meanders in search of a genre. It tries to be sincere, but instead comes off as just plain creepy. You already have a troubled kid seeing dead people, but the blue tint aesthetic coupled with textbook horror scenes, like a chase through a foggy cemetery, plague the tone of the movie and send it spiraling into dark and unsettling territory when it should be honest and sweet.
I exaggerate not when I say I despised Charlie St. Cloud. My mind raced with thoughts of hatred and condemnation throughout its runtime. It’s clumsy, inconsistent and has so many problems I’ve only begun to touch the surface. If I delved into my tiniest quibbles, including what I can only deduce as a nonsensical hybrid of necrophilia and self pleasure, I fear I may further exhaust myself and after watching this dreck, I’m exhausted enough.
Charlie St. Cloud receives 0/5