Zac Efron cries a lot

Michael Phillips | Boulder Weekly

The Motion Picture Association of America has given Charlie St. Cloud a PG-13 rating for, among other things, “an intense accident scene,” which is the best way to describe the film itself.

With some supernatural melodramas, you may buy what’s on the page, as with The Lovely Bones or The Time Traveler’s Wife. Throw an ill-starred film adaptation at the same fantastic conceits, however, and they deflate faster than you can say “phffffft” or “whoops!” followed by “what happened?” Ben Sherwood’s novel The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, adapted here by Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, tells the tale of a college-bound working-class sailing phenom whose brother, Sam, 11, is killed by a drunk driver. Charlie’s life derails; he cancels plans to attend Stanford on scholarship to become a hermit-like groundskeeper at the cemetery where Sam is buried.

Strange things happen there. Charlie thinks he sees Sam behind a gravestone. Then, one day, looking quite hale, Sam shows up with his baseball glove and ball in hand. A bargain is struck: every day at sundown, the brothers will throw the ball around, talk about the things that matter, work on their grounders. But Charlie (and this is all I’m saying about it) has special powers, and he communes with more than one spirit. When his onetime sailing competitor, Tess, (Amanda Crew) starts gumming up the works, romantically speaking, Charlie confronts a host of tough questions.

Among them: How many different ways are there to cry? Zac Efron, who sloshes his way through the role of Charlie, tries them all and succeeds well enough, though Charlie St. Cloud might have gotten by with a more charismatic cast. Charlie Tahan’s Sam fares best; he’s direct, emotionally straightforward, and he doesn’t beg for our sympathy, even when everyone else works overtime at it.

The story’s icky, frankly. (Warning: a wee spoiler follows.) At a key juncture, Charlie and Tess get together in the cemetery for something nobody ever does in the Twilight series, and then we learn it’s not happening, at least not the way we think it is, because she has suffered a horrible sailing accident. And needs rescuing. By someone preferably shirtless. And someone ready to let go of his grief, which means letting go of the metaphor for that grief, the kid with the glove.

Live your life. Live it to the fullest. These are the worthy sentiments of Charlie St. Cloud. Director Burr Steers milks them dry, like an overeager farmer at milking time, which is a paradox since this is the wettest picture of 2010, what with the sea spray and Efron’s tear ducts and the general metaphysical mist.

—MCT, Chicago Tribune Respond: