Charlie St. Cloud: For Those Who Wished The Sixth Sense Was A Romance
Charlie St. Cloud sees his dead brother. And Zac Efron smolders. Those are really the only two things you need to know about this film, which plays as if Nicholas Sparks got really drunk one night, saw The Sixth Sense, and cranked out this script while hung over. It’s not likely that you went and saw this movie for things like richly detailed characters or a deep message about life– you likely went and saw it because you like watching Zac Efron smolder. If that’s why you saw it, you’re in luck: I began to count after a while the shots of Zac Efron staring off into the distance and smoldering, and I lost count around thirty-five. Efron does a fine job, as he has the movie star good looks and charm to at least manage to barely keep the film afloat, but the script, direction, and overall concept of the film really let him down.
Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) has it all– he’s the nation’s best sailboat racer, he has a scholarship to Stanford, he has an adorable brother named Sam who spouts quippy one-liners (Charlie Tahan) and a mom who looks like Kim Basinger (Kim Basinger). Charlie makes a promise to Sam: he’ll help Sam get better at baseball for one hour every day in the woods until he leaves for Stanford. However, one night when going to the going-away party for a couple of his friends who are deploying overseas, a drunk driver hits him and Sam on the highway. Charlie is revived from the dead by a devout Catholic (Ray Liotta), but Sam doesn’t make it. After Sam’s funeral, a miracle happens: he sees Sam in the forest, where he promises to keep him alive by keeping his baseball promise. He stops sailing, defers from Stanford, stays in town after his mom moves, and begins work as a groundskeeper at his brother’s cemetery, just in case you weren’t sure that he was ravaged by guilt.
He then sees Tess (Amanda Crews), a girl he raced against in high school, preparing to be the youngest girl ever to take part in a race around the world. One night, she encounters him with a cut on her head from when she hit some rough storms while training. As he mends her wound, a romance is kindled, and they’re inseparable. The only problem is the more he’s in Tess’s world, the less he’s in Sam’s. Sam doesn’t understand why Charlie is considering going back on his promise, and Tess doesn’t understand why he can’t move on and live his life. Much smoldering commences. When Tess is lost at sea, Charlie has to make a choice– does he sail off after her, knowing that there’s a chance he won’t make it back in time to keep Sam’s memory alive? If you’ve seen the commercials you already know the answer. In the NEXT paragraph, I will dip into spoilers, so if you want to keep this movie’s not-so-secret twist alive, skip one paragraph ahead.
Charlie finds out that Tess never returned from her first trip into stormy waters. His entire romance with her has been with her ghost. Just like in The Sixth Sense, Tess never ran into another human being like a parent or the coach of her race which would start in just a few days, so she never realized she was dead. How did her ghost get back to land? How did her ghost not have self-awareness when Sam realized he was dead right away? The movie of course doesn’t bother with that logic. What’s even more anger-inducing is that Tess is still alive, and Charlie somehow realizes this. She’s been unconscious, soaking wet in cold water, in a cave without food or drink for three days and nights. She of course should be dead. The existence of her ghost verifies what we know. But then, we wouldn’t have a happy ending where they’re re-united. Again, this shouldn’t be a happy ending, because Tess never really fell in love with Charlie! However, she luckily remember these “dreams” while in the cave that were so vivid, and Charlie convinces her they were real. Happy ending achieved, and multiple loogies hocked into the face of logic and sensibility.
Efron does as fine a job as he can– look, it’s obvious that he’s a movie star, and this is a film tailored to be a vehicle to showcase his charm and good looks. The movie, on this level, succeeds, even though it doesn’t succeed on levels such as storytelling, character development, and logic. Amanda Crew, who I found likable in the film Sex Drive, has less than nothing to do here, so all I could do was stare at how big her teeth looked. Charlie Tahan can spout one-liners like the bargain-basement version of Angus Jones from Two and a Half Men, but his serious scenes are borderline laughable. It’s as if the director’s only instruction was, “Don’t smile.” Liotta and Basinger are in this movie merely collecting paychecks. Burr Steers made an interesting movie called Igby Goes Down once, that was about real teenagers of privilege and their problems. His next two films have been shallow Zac Efron vehicles, as if he gave up on developing his talent in favor of hitching his wagon to Efron’s star. However, if all Efron does in the coming years are hollow films like this, his star will fade quickly. He should look at DiCaprio’s early career and try to follow suit– do some complex characters or some more indie films. Instead, his next film is a Nicholas Sparks movie about a soldier who falls in love. Brace yourself for more smoldering from the current young king of it.