Zac Efron and the rest of the crew behind “Charlie St. Cloud” want their movie to be weepy, soulful, inspirational, cathartic, ethereal, life-affirming and who knows what else on the New Age emotional barometer.
Too bad they didn’t aim to make it a little interesting.
This melodrama about a young man who puts his life in stasis after his kid brother’s death deals with the biggest of issues – why are we here, where are we bound? – with the blandest of greeting-card sentiments.
While Efron aims to show he’s more than just a “High School Musical” heartthrob, he’s vacuous in the title role, sleepwalking through what’s meant to be a journey from the deepest despair toward new hope.
Efron’s Charlie has everything going his way in his Pacific Northwest hometown. He’s a master yachtsman about to head off to college with a sailing scholarship. Female classmates swoon at the sight of him.
He’s best friend, idol and father figure to his young brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). Then Sam dies in a terrible accident, while Charlie is revived after a near-death experience that leaves him seeing dead people – not in a creepy “Sixth Sense” manner but in an everyday, how’s-your-afterlife-going sort of way.
Five years later, Charlie’s stuck in limbo, working as the caretaker at the cemetery where Sam is buried and still looking after his little brother, who keeps popping up from beyond to hang out.
Then, just as she’s about to head off on a ’round-the-world solo sailing race, Charlie’s high school classmate Tess (Amanda Crew) comes back into his world, rekindling his interest in living people, the sea and everything else for which he once had a passion.
Steers, who made the decent teen tale “Igby Goes Down” and also directed Efron in the piffling comedy “17 Again,” does a nice job putting some soul in the scenery, even if he can’t manage the same for the characters. The sailing images are lovely, the seascape is bleakly beautiful, and the town is pretty as a postcard.
Efron certainly looks pretty, too. Maybe that’s enough for his young fans, even if no one’s home behind Charlie’s cloudy eyes.