Movie Review

Charlie St. Cloud

Stuck in limbo, no chance of redemption

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By Wesley Morris
Globe Staff / July 30, 2010

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Zac Efron is 22, but he already has that onset George Hamilton glow. Which is perfect for “Charlie St. Cloud,’’ a movie about a young sailing champion who angelically postpones his life to play catch with his dead, Red Sox-crazed, 11-year-old brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). In limbo. Every day.

The brother chooses to wait in limbo. But why should you? There are toenails to clip and shelves to dust. Besides, the movie is very much dead already. It has no pulse, no apparent breath, and a curious odor seems to waft from the screen not long after Charlie and Sam win a race together in the opening scene.

The movie is based on Ben Sherwood’s novel “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud,’’ and was directed by Burr Steers. But its preoccupation with the afterlife and assorted celestial bromides loosely recall Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones’’ and the big-screen fiasco Peter Jackson made of it. With Efron, it’s more like “The Lovely Cheekbones.’’ The camera watches him and appears to nod off. That’s understandable. Every medium close-up of him squinting in a snug T-shirt at dusk is a Jockey ad.

This isn’t to say Efron is useless, but he isn’t interesting, either. In some sense, both the material here and his “High School Musical’’ shadow limit what he’s allowed to do. He doesn’t drink or swear or bully or partake in talk of touching himself. Those are activities for the other actors, including a few playing ghosts.

Charlie, it seems, has been blessed — or cursed! — with an ability to see both the dead and, just in time to save them, the dying. He is noble. He is virtuous. He is often wet. And he is drawn to a young sailor (Amanda Crew) who says stuff like “He flummoxed me,’’ and has the sort of uncloseable mouth that would make her a big star in France.

Charlie survived a car accident that Sam did not. The guilt keeps him enslaved to his brother. The object of the film is to maximize the number of people plying Charlie with life lessons. Kim Basinger, as mom, imparts hers early and never returns. Ray Liotta is less lucky. As the paramedic who saves Charlie, he later holds off cancer long enough to inspire him (“I lived a full life’’). Another character says, “You hurt because you’re alive.’’ I hurt because this movie contains two minutes of Efron and Tahan surfing mud on trash-can lids with the Ramones on the soundtrack.

Steers cares not for pacing or depth or the power of real emotion. His camera oozes along the movie’s surfaces, as it did in “Igby Goes Down,’’ his first film, and the much queasier Efron vehicle, “17 Again.’’

“Charlie St. Cloud’’ does have one decent scene in a bar, in which Charlie decks a former classmate (Matt Ward) who says, “You want a piece of me, townie piece of crap?’’ He happens to be black and works for Goldman Sachs, which should replace the Middle East and Russia as the new source for Hollywood villains. This banker is a piece of work. He’s from the same town as Charlie. It’s some place called Quincy Harbor. The movie was filmed in Vancouver, and the only character who sounds like he’s from anywhere is a guy named Alistair (Augustus Prew), who appears to have a crush on Charlie. But his accent just further confuses things. He sounds like he’s just from plain-old England.

Wesley Morris can be reached at Follow him at

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this review misstated the film's location. It was filmed as well as set in the Pacific Northwest. A blog post address the error.

CHARLIE ST. CLOUD Directed by: Burr Steers

Written by: Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, based on the novel “The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud’’ by Ben Sherwood

Starring: Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, and Ray Liotta

At: Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs

Running time: 100 minutes

Rated PG-13 (language including some sexual references, an intense accident scene, and some sensuality, including a shirtless rescue mission)

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