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Thread: CHARLIE ST. CLOUD (Burr Steers 2010)

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    CHARLIE ST. CLOUD (Burr Steers 2010)

    Burr Steers: CHARLIE ST. CLOUD (2010)



    Burr goes down

    Review by Chris Knipp

    After the High School Musical franchise closed, its teen heartthrob star Zac Efron vowed to seek serious cred as an actor. His ingenue role in the charming little nostalgia piece, Me And Orson Welles, was a convincing step in that direction. But now Zac is back to wowing teenage girls again in Charlie St. Cloud, a Nicolas Sparks-style weepy (actually from a novel by Ben Sherman) about a young couple who meet because they both haunt the same cenetery. Charlie has little charms, an upbeat message (along with pumped-up scares and morbidity) and a cast that includes Kim Bassinger and Ray Liotta. But this is definitely not a sign that the patrician director, Burr Steers (a relative of Gore Vidal and the Bouvier sisters), has made it back from a trail of TV shows and the undistinguished Zac Efron fantasy flick 17 Again to the wit and sophistication of his debut film, Igby Goes Down. More and more it's looking like Igby was a lucky fluke.

    Charlie (Efron) is so hung up on his deceased little brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) that he works as the graveyard's maintenance man and has given up his future prospects as an ace sailor with a scholarship to Stanford. Tess (Amanda Crew) meets him, as well as his colorful Brit assistant (Augustus Prew), because she's there haunting the grave of her late father. This isn't literally by Nicolas Sparks, but it follows the same pattern. Something idyllic is set up, and then tragedy happens. Then, against heavy odds, love comes along to wipe away the tragedy.

    I liked Tess. She's thin and athletic looking, as befits a young woman who, like Charlie, is a serous sailor. With better dialogue Amanda Crew might seem Hepburn-like. Augustus Prew is good too; he has a salty but light quality as Charlie's cemetery "mate" that's fresh and appealing. There's another sport, baseball, because Sam was a devotee of it. You might count as a third sport goose wrangling, since Charlie is always having to chase geese from the graveyard, part of the pleasant but gratuitous woodsy and coastal scenery of the movie, which is set in Maine, but actually was shot in West Vancouver, British Columbia.

    Zac Efron's trouble is that his face is so sweet, especially the watery blue eyes, that you don't expect any will power behind it, and this movie gives him no life behind that face, only his guilt hangup and a vague longing. Even though (as in a Sparks story) he takes a stand against bullies by knocking down an obnoxious classmate in a bar, his fantasy relationship with his dead brother and his life of penance suggest weakness posing as guilt. Ray Liotta has to be brought in as a Deus ex Machina to make Charlie get his ass in gear and do something. But it's much too fast and too magical.

    When you take out the set-up time when Charlie's closeness to Sam and his love of sailing are established, and eliminate all the sequences that are miraculous or tragic or fantasy, there's almost nothing left. Not a specific, non-generic moment of people just being people. The movie milks the netherworld relationship between Charlie and little Sam over and over and over. Charlie Tahan seems like a talented young actor and he's fine in the early scenes, but then he's turned into a treacly cliché. Sooner or later the tragic bonding rituals between Charlie and Sam will make the teen girl in you cry. The real teen girls will cry in the movie's first ten minutes; for the rest of us, it will take the whole picture. But sooner or later, that seems to be the aim here: to make every viewer fall into the same happy-sad state. If Efron wants to prove himself as a serious actor, he should skip sentimental tripe like this -- and avoid roles that make so much of how he looks in and out of a tight T-shirt.

    Let's not give up on Burr Steers or Zac Efron, but let's not forgive them for this movie either. They probably should stay away from each other.

    INDEX of CK 2010 reviews.
    Last edited by Chris Knipp; 02-05-2016 at 09:39 PM.

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