Zach Efron seems to be hell bent to have everyone see him as a serious actor, not just a pretty boy with a huge teen girl following, and in his latest film, Charlie St. Cloud, he emotes well, but still takes his shirt off.
Efron plays Charlie, a sail boating whiz kid in his small seafront town, constantly winning every sailing race held in the area by taking daring chances in a smooth as glass style.
Charlie has an old school, give 'em a smack in the face or whack in the arm, relationship with his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), under the watchful but overworked eye of their mom (Kim Basinger, in one of the briefest screen appearances of her career).
Charlie is about to matriculate on a full ride sailing scholarship to Stanford, as Sam is struggling with baseball fundamentals and fears not making it very far in his Little League career.
In this quaint little town where there is a tradition of firing off cannons at sunset, Charlie, wishing to ease Sam's anxiety about being "ditched" (the way their dad had ditched the duo years earlier), makes Sam a deal that he'll practice with him everyday until he ships off for college at sunset cannons as long as he's never late, and never misses a single day.
One fateful night, Charlie tries to go off to a friend's party when he's supposed to be babysitting Sam. When Sam catches him in the act, he coerces Charlie into giving him a ride to his friend's house on his way to the party. They have this truly wonderful "brotherly" type of heart-to-heart in the car just before it's rear ended and thrown into the path of an oncoming big rig.
Charlie is brought back from the dead by Florio (Ray Liotta), a paramedic that doesn't believe in hopeless causes (and wears a St. Jude medallion around his neck to prove it), but Sam isn't so lucky.
At Sam's funeral, Charlie can't bring himself to throw Sam's baseball glove into the grave, runs away from the graveside service, only to see Sam in a clearing in the graveyard, and begins to talk him, recommitting to his promise of practicing with him everyday at sunset cannons.
We now flash-forward five years, and Charlie is now the caretaker of the graveyard, dealing with a truly wigged out English friend (Augustus Prew), a flock of nuisance geese, and a chart to tell him exactly when sunset will be every night (he can't be late for his nightly rendezvous with Sam).
Charlie has totally blown off his future and deferred his scholarship to Stanford, and has never left their small town for even a day in five years due to his commitment to meet with Sam.
Apparently Charlie's near death experience has given him the ability to see and talk to the dead (eat your hearts out Haley Joel Osment and Jennifer Love Hewitt), not just Sam, a point illustrated in a scene where Charlie has a tête-à-tête with an old high school buddy that joined the armed forces and was killed in action.
Into Charlie's simple, isolated existence comes Tess (Amanda Crew) an old high school acquaintance that is quite a sailor in her own right, and is about to attempt a solo trek around the world.
Will Tess be able to pull Charlie out of his self imposed exile from life? Will Charlie be able to let Sam go once and for all? Is there more to the story, and why Charlie was spared from death?
The film is based on a book and plays much like a novel insofar as feel, which isn't a bad thing, especially for this particular story, as the filmmakers go to great lengths to set a particular mood throughout.
The cinematography of Enrique Chediak is inspired and beautiful, and it must have been quite a challenge for director Burr Steers to light scene after scene taking place at sunset just right to give it that soft look, with another true highlight of the film being the moving score by Rolfe Kent.
The performances of Efron and Crews are solid, and Tahan does a good job of playing off of Efron and making the unreal seem real for his character. Although my biggest question was if ghost boy had been training in baseball everyday for five solid years why didn't he ever seem to get any better, and wouldn't older bro have run out of things to teach him?
Logical misgivings like that (and others) aside, Charlie St. Cloud might not be rising into the stratosphere at the box office, but is a quality film with a hopeful message, and worth seeing by more than just Efron fans.