I admit I'm not the ideal audience for Zac Efron's new movie Charlie St. Cloud. The ideal audience is teenage girls who are into guys who look like teenage girls and that's just not me. Oh, someday maybe, if they ever perfect the operation, but enough of that.
Charlie St. Cloud is the kind of maudlin melodrama that I always want to kick. It's the kind of movie that makes me say, "To hell with this free pass, I should have gone to see Inception again." The only reason I didn't walk out after the first 30 minutes when I saw exactly where the movie was going is because I wanted to write this review though now I'm thinking, "I could have just said I walked out after the first 30 minutes." I'll describe the film and you can see what I mean.
Charlie is an amateur sailor who's so good that he's going to Stamford on a sailing scholarship. Until this movie, I had no idea that sailing scholarships existed so maybe they were invented for Charlie because he's just that good. Charlie has an 11 year old brother named Sam. The movie goes to extraordinary lengths to tell us that Charlie really loves the kid for the sole purpose of making us feel bad when Sam dies. We get an extra helping of guilt and grief because Sam died because Charlie disobeyed his mom's instructions to stay home and instead took Sam out driving with him. A drunk driver crashes into them and they both have near death experiences which, for Sam, was near enough that he couldn't be brought back. A side effect of this is that Charlie can now see ghosts which means he can see Sam and he and Sam make a deal to meet every day at sunset to play catch.
Five years later, Sam and Charlie are still meeting to play catch and this is where the movie really...slows...down. Up till this point, the movie wasn't too bad. Oh, nothing I'd recommend but also nothing I couldn't sit through. It is when we move forward and meet the 23 year old Charlie that we are treated to the same three scenes over and over again. One is Charlie in his job as head caretaker of the town's graveyard trying to get rid of geese. I lost count of the number of times we saw Charlie running around banging trash can lids together in an attempt to get rid of the geese that infested the graveyard and were soiling the headstones. The second scene on an endless loop is the games of ghost baseball between Charlie and his brother during which they make small talk about the plot and call each other dicks. The third is Charlie trying to get together with a girl named Tess (Amanda Crew) with whom he went to high school who is now preparing to enter a six month boat race to South Africa. Charlie's attempts to get Tess's panties off usually fail because of his dead brother obsession but, you know, he's Zac Efron and he's the star of the movie so do the math. An honorary fourth scene would be Zac Efron standing around and staring at stuff. Could be Tess. Could be a sunset. Could be a goose. But he does it over and over again.
Mixed in and played along with the three scenes is what was supposed to be a shocking plot twist that I spotted the second it started to unfold. I then had to sit there for the next hour or so as the movie kept dropping hints about this event until the big reveal. I'm not sure if I was the only one to figure this out but I did notice a lack of gasps and stunned silences when they finally told me what I already knew.
Charlie St. Cloud director Burr Steers, a name you'd think would be synonymous with quality, does take advantage of the lovely scenery of this small Maine town* and he gives us plenty of shots of yachts sailing idyllically over beautiful seas and actors staring at lovely sunsets but that's pretty much where the movie's virtues end.
One more thing I want to address is the penchant for melodramatic ghost stories to have the dead tell the living that everything is so awesome in the afterlife but then have the same dead people actively encourage the living to go on living. If being dead is so awesome, why wouldn't you want your loved ones there with you? "I'm really better off being dead, beloved relative. It's the greatest experience ever so for God's sake, stay alive." Maybe only a limited amount of cream filled donuts are laid out every morning in the afterlife so you want to keep as many people here as long as possible because you keep getting stuck with glazed.
*I think it was Maine anyway. If not there then somewhere in New England. I don't feel like looking it up.