DVD Release Date:  November 9, 2010
Theatrical Release Date:  July 30, 2010
Rating:  PG-13 (for language, including some sexual references, an intense accident scene and some sensuality)
Genre:  Drama
Run Time:  99 min.
Director:  Burr Steers
Actors:  Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Augustus Prew, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta

If forced to sum up Charlie St. Cloud in one pithy line, I'd say it's a Lifetime made-for-TV movie with way better cinematography. And I guess the fact that it doesn't star Tori Spelling or Jo from The Facts of Life and doesn't feature some skeevy guy cheating on his wife (who she'll naturally have to murder later) probably helps the cause a little, too.

But beyond that, if you don't believe that Zac Efron is the dreamiest guy on the planet, well, there's not much to love about this standard-issue shlock-fest that makes anything Nicholas Sparks has served up recently look downright Oscar-worthy in comparison.

Surprisingly enough, the trouble with this hokey mess of a movie isn't even Efron's acting (truth be told, he does the best with what he's got). It's that the screenplay tries to be so many things (part Field of Dreams, part The Sixth Sense, part The Notebook) that it doesn't do anything particularly well, including generating the necessary waterworks to win over its target demographic (a.k.a the same women, myself included, who bawled during the aforementioned Notebook).

The movie poster for Charlie St. Cloud instructs us that "life is for living," and while that's certainly true, this story has a funny way of conveying that message. Basically, five years after sailing enthusiast Charlie St. Cloud's (Efron) brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) is tragically killed in a car crash, Charlie simply can't move on with his life.

Instead of heading to Stanford on the sailing scholarship he earned, Charlie has set up shop in his sleepy Pacific Northwest town's graveyard where his brother is buried. And when he's not chasing the geese that destroy the headstones with their poo (yes, this is one of the film's small attempts at comic relief) or planting beautiful new flowers at the resting places of his fellow townspeople, he's moping around and checking the weather conditions for expeditions he'll never make.

Trouble is, it's Zac Efron who's doing all the moping, and it takes a gargantuan sense of disbelief to buy into him as Charlie. If the makeup and wardrobe folks had de-glammed him even a little, that could've been possible. But when the camera is lovingly zooming in on Efron's tan, model-perfect face and chiseled abs, it's all a bit laughable.

If anything, you'd think his character would prefer to drown his sorrows in all the money he'd make from doing skin-care ads and shirtless modeling. But instead we're supposed to believe he's so devastated that he can't even make polite conversation with a pretty girl.

Even worse is when Charlie starts seeing (and talking to) dead people. While spending all those long hours at the local cemetery, he thinks he spots his dearly departed brother walking behind one of the gravestones. And not long after, he starts reconnecting with Sam from beyond when they strike up an unusual bargain: For an hour every afternoon, Charlie promises Sam that he'll meet up with him in the woods where they'll practice catching a few grounders (Sam was a huge baseball nut) and reminiscing about the good ol' days before the drunk driver messed everything up.

In case you were wondering:  Little nuggets of Hallmark card wisdom are often exchanged during these pow-wows (like when Sam reminds Charlie that he hurts because he's alive). And before long, Charlie is known as the town's requisite weird guy because he's often spotted talking to, well, no one.


As far as Charlie is concerned, his life is fine as long as he has Sam to hang with. But when Charlie's female sailing counterpart enters the scene, it threatens to radically change the dynamic. Turns out, as Charlie gets closer with Tess (Amanda Crew), Sam is "convinced" their time together will lead to Charlie forgetting him altogether.

Right in the middle of Charlie's conflicted feelings, a weirdo paramedic conveniently intervenes and tells him he has a gift. In another instance of unbelievable casting, Ray Liotta (you know, cinema's go-to baddie) is playing the guy who saved Charlie from flatlining for good. Now facing his own battle with cancer, he abruptly stops Charlie in the middle of the street and tells him they need to get a cup of coffee—pronto. While sharing a cup of joe, Liotta's character shares all kinds of inspirational mumbo jumbo about how Charlie needs to move on and embrace the gift of a second chance because God wouldn't have saved his life without a reason.

Trouble is, Charlie doesn't end up finding salvation in God, but Tess, who may (or may not) be a ghost, too. In terms of fantasy storytelling, that wouldn't have been so icky, except that they hook up in predictable PG-13 fashion. And because of the script's far-flung twists and meaningless turns, bad casting and a needlessly morbid plot to boot, Charlie St. Cloud fails to offer any memorable insight into the subject of grieving and dealing with loss.

Even Efron, not to mention his adoring audience, deserves better than this.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol:  A drunk driver was to blame for the accident that ended Charlie's brother's life. There's also social drinking plus Charlie sneaks out (while underage) to join his friends at a kegger.

  • Language/Profanity:  A couple of misuses of God's name plus a handful of profanities (a--, sh--, dam-) and rude language (calling a guy a di--).

  • Sex/Nudity:  A couple of references to masturbation and "hot girls" in catalogs, plus it's implied that Charlie sleeps with Tess when they wake up together the next morning. But since she was technically a ghost at the time, what happened between them sexually ends up being a dream.

  • Violence:  The car accident (which is shown once and then a couple of other times throughout the movie) that Charlie and Sam were in was a grisly affair. After getting hit by a drunk driver, a semi crashed directly into Sam's side of the car, which was very uncomfortable to watch. Attempts to revive both Charlie and Sam (who are covered in blood) are shown. When Charlie's friend taunts him about not being the best designated driver, Charlie punches him.

  • Religion:  Scripture is read at Sam's funeral. Plus, when Charlie runs into the paramedic who saved his life, (played by Ray Liotta), he tells Charlie that there was a reason that God saved his life when he was technically dead at one point. The paramedic also references his St. Jude's medal because St. Jude was the patron saint of lost causes—something he hopes will encourage Charlie to live with the purpose he was created for. Also since the paramedic is now dying of cancer himself, he emphasizes the importance of living life to the fullest.

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blog

For more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.