Let’s just get this part out of the way first: Zac Efron is a very pretty person. Dude is fucking flawless. There’s a certain chiseled and tousled perfection about him that reminds me of Brad Pitt circa Meet Joe Black, only with about an eighth of the talent. Efron is precisely what a guy would look like if he were created in a petri dish. It’s unsettling. There’s something weirdly inorganic and futuristic looking about him, like he traveled from a not-so-distant future where we could genetically modify ourselves with blue pills. That said: He’s not a terrible actor, at least not relative to the other teen heart-throbby dudes populating Hollywood. In five year’s time, if you were to do a profile of all the actors and actresses from “High School Musical” and Twilight, I’d guess that Efron and Kristen Stewart (maybe) would be the only ones remaining with healthy careers. Efron is limitedly appealing, and save for his teenybopper roots, he’s not alienating like many of the others in his weight class. He’s blandly perfect; a vessel of prettiness (minus Lautner’s woodenness) with whom you can channel your shitty scripts.
In fact, Efron single-handedly elevates Charlie St. Cloud from a complete fucking disaster of a film to a simple and benign atrocity. Cloud comes from Burr Steers, who directed the overlooked Igby Goes Down, as well as 17 Again, which also starred Efron (and some have suggested that Efron elevated that picture slightly, too). Cloud represents one, possibly final, step in Efron’s transition from younger tweenkie roles to more mature ones, including the upcoming Snabba Cash remake, where Efron will play a coke runner and piss on the unicorn dreams of his existing fan base. Unfortunately for Efron, Cloud also demonstrates his limited range — he cries at least 59 times in the film, and in nearly every instance, he’s aesthetically the same robotic picture of perfection, save for the occasional tear dripping down his cheek, but even those trickle faultlessly down the contours of his face. He makes you want to punch him, if only to alter the perfect symmetry.
I want to do a little something different with today’s review, particularly considering how few of our readers have or will eventually see this movie. But in order to demonstrate how ridiculously boneheaded the screenplay for Charlie St. Cloud is, I want to tell you not how the movie ends, but how it does not end. That is to say, the rest of this review will be filled with negative spoilers.
Anyone that’s seen the adverts can piece together the premise: Charlie (Efron), a sailing phenom who is set up for a sailing scholarship at Stanford, gets plowed into by an 18-wheeler while his brother is in the passenger seat. Charlie’s brother, Sam, dies in the accident. Charlie, meanwhile, also flatlines and dies. He’s a lost cause until a paramedic (Ray Liotta) revives him miraculously and brings him back from the dead.
Cut to five years later, and Charlie has not only skipped out on Stanford, but he’s given up sailing. He’s sullen and withdrawn, with few friends to speak of. Charlie works in the graveyard where his brother is buried. The “twist” here is that Charlie can see his dead brother. In fact, the two of them play catch every single day at sunset, an appointment that Charlie never misses. Turns out, Charlie can also see other dead people, too, including an old high school friend who was killed in the Iraq War.
Enter Tess (Amanda Crew), a high-school classmate of Charlie’s who is set to become the youngest female skipper to sail around the world. She has an attraction to Charlie, who she reunites with temporarily at the graveyard where her father is buried. But they otherwise do not speak, save for a brief conversation the night before Tess sets out on a dangerous sailing trip.
Indeed, during that sailing trip, Tess ignores the advice of her coach (Donal Logue) and, as a storm approaches, Tess sails into it. The scene cuts. The next time we see Tess, she’s sitting on her father’s grave with a large cut on her head, which is where Charlie finds her. Charlie cleans up her wound, and the two of them go on a date. They hit it off, which nearly causes Charlie to miss his appointment with his brother.
Now, this is where the two roads in that yellow wood diverge, and Charlie St. Cloud ignores both and runs off the path and straight into a tree, braining itself to death. Basically, you see two possibilities here: 1) The Nicholas Sparks Ending: Tess and Charlie fall in love, and Tess helps Charlie to let go of his dead brother; or 2) The Sixth Sense Ending: Tess died in the storm, and the reason that Charlie can see her, and his brother, is because Charlie actually did die during that car accident, and that his graveyard job is another one of those post-life holding patterns that are so popular these days.
Both endings are fairly predictable; you just have to predict the right one. Given the target audience and the casting of Efron and Crews, you expect the Nicholas Sparks ending more, but if you want to give the movie a slight bit of credit, you might predict the Shyamalan ending, reasoning that the target audience here is probably 13-17, and many of them might not have seen The Sixth Sense yet.
In either respect, you’d be wrong. What Steers provides is neither of those endings. You have to give him some credit for finding an unpredictable way to tie up the film, but then again, it’s only unpredictable because no one in their right goddamn mind could anticipate a conclusion as unbelievably fucking moronic as the one in Charlie St. Cloud. I won’t spoil it for you, but I will tell you this much: It takes elements from both Nicholas Sparks and The Sixth Sense, binds them together by their hands and feet, and throws them under a train. The ending represents the bloody and shredded remains after wild dogs have chewed them up and regurgitated them. The film’s only saving grave is that nothing in the hour and a half leading up toward the conclusion gives you much reason to invest yourself in the movie or the characters, so you can hardly be bothered to care about the film’s outcome.