Review of Charlie St. Cloud

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Zac Efron plays a young man who is mourning the loss of his younger brother. As Charlie, Efron's character has the ability to see and interact with his lost sibling. The tight bond shared by the two brothers is put to the test when a girl comes into Charlie's life, as he's forced to choose between keeping a promise he made to Sam or going after the girl he loves.
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Movie Review: "Charlie St. Cloud"

-- Rating: PG-13
Length: 109 minutes
Release Date: July 30, 2010
Directed By: Burr Steers
Genre: Drama/Romance
Cast: Zac Efron, Kim Basinger and Charlie Tahan

"Charlie St. Cloud" has all the makings of a heart-wrenching drama about loss and commitment. It's a tale of death, guilt, regret, and a healthy dose of romance, based after an award-winning novel that combined each of these elements brilliantly. While the movie does have its touching moments, it doesn't live up to the story's potential in terms of emotional impact. Despite several would-be moving scenes throughout the movie, the script runs a little too fast paced to allow viewers to get fully connected with the plot, or its characters.

The beginning of the film features the title character Charlie and his younger brother Sam racing on the waters of the Pacific Northwest in a race. After a quick win, the movie indicates Charlie's golden boy status when it's mentioned that he is all set to embark on his college career with a sailing scholarship to Stanford University. All of this is swept away, however, when Charlie and his brother are involved in a car accident. While Charlie is saved by paramedics, his brother Sam isn't so lucky.

This leads Charlie into a world of supernatural ball playing and a close connection with the afterlife when he discovers he can see the spirit of his younger brother. In what should be an emotional tale of a young man trapped by spirits of his past, the viewer instead gets a jumbled collection of scenes that neither add to story's depth nor propel the character forward.

Some reconciliation of these flaws is obtained when a girl from Charlie's past enters the scene and leads him into a passionate, although predictable, love story. The viewer stays engaged as Charlie struggles between the promise of a real life with his newfound love and the vow he made to his younger brother to stay with him always. Any romance the story holds, however, is overshadowed by melodrama and over-the-top dialogue, both of which distract from the story. The budding relationship between Charlie and his beau is also shown in such a hurried way that the viewer never gets a true sense of their chemistry.

Director Burr Steers, known for his work in the comedy "17 Again," seems to have missed his mark in his direction of "Charlie St. Cloud." His pattern of jumping from one scene to another leaves the viewer almost satisfied, but not quite. Each time an emotional moment comes to a head, the films moves on to something else, with viewers never quite feeling the full impact. This, combined with overdramatized dialogue, makes the film feel rushed and downright unrealistic.

The saving grace is in the character of Charlie himself, played by ZacEfron in his second pairing with Steers. While the too-quick scene changes and the overly dramatic script leave viewers wanting, Efron brings an authenticity to the part that can't be denied. He seems to know when to add the right level of emotion to every scene, and he does so in a subtle way that contrasts with the movie's often frenzied pace. Despite the film's shortcomings, his performance shines through to give the movie a more even balance.

Kim Basinger gives a worthy, although brief, rendition of Claire St. Cloud, Charlie's mother. She quickly goes from a proud mother to a grief-stricken one before disappearing from the film altogether.

Amanda Crew plays Charlie's love interest Tess Carroll and gives an overall good performance. As a relative newcomer, her portrayal of Charlie's lover makes for a respectable early career move, and her rendition of the character was both passionate and sensitive. Although the film's pacing does not provide enough time for their chemistry to develop, Crew's on-screen chemistry with Efron is undeniable.

As Charlie's younger brother, young actor Charlie Tahan gives a memorable performance as well. He provides just the right combination of cute kid and annoying little brother to give the character authenticity and personality. His more lighthearted character plays well off Efron's nearly continuous show of emotion for just the right balance. He also brings a depth of character to the part. The only downside to Sam St. Cloud is that the writers often give him lines that are too profound to be befitting to a boy of such a young age.

While the film, as a whole, has its shortcomings, "Charlie St. Cloud" is saved by a strong cast of characters who manage to overcome its over-the-top script and hurried pacing and turn it into something meaningful and authentic. Those who are expecting a heart-wrenching scene at every turn may be a bit disappointed by the fast-paced development of the movie's plot, but moviegoers who want a touching story for date night will find it worth seeing.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars