CHARLIE ST. CLOUD is a middling, innocuous film, rife with woozy golden sunlight and swelling syrupy music invoked to create the emotions that the film itself fails to ignite. For all the distraught characters, the film itself deftly sidesteps any attempts to explore the further reaches of passions, of romance or of grief, instead opting for a candy box photograph approach that cheapens the attempt.
The eponymous Charlie (Zac Efron) is a young man who had the world on a string and a sailing scholarship to Stanford until a drunk driver hit the car he was driving, killing his 11-year-old brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan, the definition of plucky little cherub doomed to meet a premature death). Fortunately, earlier that same day, Charlie has made a solemn promise to Sam that they would practice throwing a baseball around every day at sunset. Promises such as that between brothers being sacred, when Charlie shows up in a glade near the graveyard with a glove and a ball after the Sams funeral, so does Sam. Eschewing the sailing scholarship to Stanford in favor of keeping his daily date with Sam. Charlie becomes the caretaker of his coastside villages graveyard, sticking close to Sams grave and becoming the local loon. Its a status that doesnt keep the local girls from hitting, unsuccessfully, on him, or keep his assistant (Alistair Woolley) from attempting, unsuccessfully, to fix him up with an assortment of lovelies who are very, very friendly. And so things go until Tess (Amanda Crew), an old high school classmate and crack sailor re-enters his life on her way to a yacht race around the world. Charlie is tempted. Sam thinks shes hot. Romance, of a sort, ensues, and so do new depths of guilt.
Efron, a young man of exquisite beauty and blue eyes that have a glistening sheen, is given little chance here to show that he is more than a pretty face. He weeps with tenderness as well as grief, and has a stillness in the midst of a party that bespeaks his characters self-enforced alienation from the world. Though he makes good use of those few scenes when there is a break in the hushed reverence on which director Burr Steers insists, bringing more than his chiseled good looks and even more chiseled physique. The graveyard frolic between Charlie and Tess, alas, is not one of them, taking a moment fraught with incisive metaphor and potential catharsis into a skittish music video aimed squarely at tweens. That there is little chemistry between the two actors frolicking is a further dampening of the efforts on display. Woolley, doing a fine impression of Russell Brand, is a refreshing tonic to the otherwise monotonous cinematic landscape, while Ray Liotta, as the paramedic who saves Charlie but not Sam, is oddly quiescent, as tamped down as everything else going on. Kim Basinger, as the boys mother, is AWOL even before her character departs the village for city life after the accident.
The sailor folk in CHARLIE ST. CLOUD have less to fear from inclement weather than from the storm of unrefined schmaltz, the which engulfs them without mercy. The audience witnessing the deluge fares little better.