The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud

News Luke Savage 7 Oct 2010 - 12:51

Can Burr Steers and Zac Efron recapture the form they showed in the underrated 17 Again? Luke checks out The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud...

Movie characters have the best names, don't they? The greatest ones get the balance just right, a little bit preposterous and yet still kind of believable. Cole Trickle, Johnny Utah, Memphis Raines, Clubber Lang. They're all in my top ten.

The Death And Life Of Charlie St. Cloud adds another one to that list. It's a name good enough to make you wonder how much fun the school roll call would have been when the teacher got to him. Quite fun, probably. Sadly, Charlie St. Cloud, the film, doesn't share the same joie de vivre. In fact, it spends much of its time on the opposite, presenting Charlie as a character who doesn't want to live. 

For the first five minutes, he looks like he could give Matthew Modine a run for his money in Wind. Which is to say he's a preternaturally talented sailor, the kind who can leave his competitors trailing and resorting to the kind of dialogue people only say in movies. "Damn, he's too good," one of them says rather graciously.

But then, tragedy strikes. A death in the family leaves Charlie grounded, and a 'five years later' flash-forward finds him tending the gardens of the town's graveyard. What's a pained young man to do? Well, in this case, not very much. Charlie St. Cloud opens with a nicely energetic set piece, but after that it grinds to a halt.

Director Burr Steers (how about that for a real-life great name?) has pedigree. His first film was the acerbic Igby Goes Down, and his previous dalliance with Zac Efron, 17 Again, had charm and laughs to spare. Here, however, he comes unstuck. 

There isn't a quiet or realistic moment in the film's first twenty minutes. It's all swelling music, hazy sunsets and overly melodramatic back and forths. "You can't put life on hold," says Kim Basinger during a very serious school run, sounding suspiciously like a discarded tagline. 

Charlie St. Cloud's biggest mistake is that it overplays the dour card, too often mistaking Charlie's inner turmoil for conflict, when it's just narcissistic moping. Watching someone walk around feeling depressed isn't a whole lot of fun, even when that person is a leading man as good as Efron.

He may not be completely dismantling the High School Musical fluffiness in the way Leonardo DiCaprio so quickly shed his Titanic heartthrob status (there are way too many shots of Efron looking plaintive against the warm glow of a glorious sunset), but he is at least dialling it down.  And he continues to impress with each passing film. He's good here, but the film's dependency on him to look incredible at all times is like an anchor that keeps him from doing anything truly memorable.

He's also upstaged by his co-star, Augustus Prew. His Alistair Wooley is the type of English friend most Hollywood films rarely do. He isn't foppish or stiff, and talks the way you'd expect someone from London, England to talk. His ramshackle charm is the perfect counterpoint to Efron's smoothness on a stick.

It's not a terrible film, by any means. It has its moments (mostly when Prew and Efron share the screen), makes sailing look quite lovely, and is probably best enjoyed if you know what you're letting yourself in for.

This is Zac Efron's Cocktail, a film that exists for no other reason than as a vehicle for its young star. Where Cocktail had that Cruise grin, Charlie St. Cloud has Zac's furrowed brow and brooding stare. Which means it isn't as much fun, and has to work a little bit harder, because it's not the first to try this.

Robert Pattinson got in there first with Remember Me, a superior rom-dram that had a pleasingly self conscious way of laughing at its own clichés while offering a few surprises along the way.  Aside from a nice third act reveal, the biggest surprise here is how they got Ray Liotta for five minutes of agonisingly sentimental screen time. They make Operation Dumbo Drop look gritty by comparison.

2 stars

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