Silver Screen: Charlie Saint Cloud **

Silver Screen: Charlie Saint Cloud **
Bryan Miller

Here is what you can suss out from the trailer for Charlie Saint Cloud: Young Charlie is a sailor and good student bound for success until the car accident that nearly kills him takes the life of his younger brother. Emotionally destroyed, he retreats to a simple life in his oceanside town, where he's still able to see his brother's ghost every evening, and they play baseball. This arrangement works well until Charlie meets a beautiful young sailor (a lady sailor, that is-- sorry, half of Zac Efron's fanbase) who is planning to take her boat on an around-the-world trip. He wants to go with her, but he fears that if he leaves he won't be able to see his ghost brother anymore. When she gets lost at sea, Charlie has to decide between his past and his future, between the memory of his brother and the possibility of opening himself up to a new relationship.

There's about ten minutes of actual movie left after that, so if you've seen the trailer and have a pretty good guess as to which avenue Charlie is going to choose, you can probably stay home. Why buy the cow when you can watch the shitty movie for free?

What the film's trailer doesn't account for, however, is its sheer weirdness, which is somewhat endearing.

Teen dreamboat turned regular dreamboat Efron plays Charlie as a kind of haunted hunk, which isn't particularly credible, but at least he extends beyond surface-level sadness. Since the accident, which left him clinically dead for crucial seconds, he has established some sort of bond with the afterlife, one that allows him to see and speak to ghosts who inhabit the graveyard where he works. Not a lot of ghosts, or very often, or according to any real internal logic-- why can he see some people occasionally, yet his brother every day, yet potentially not be able to see his brother ever again if he misses a single appointment of pitch-and-catch?-- but enough that it skews his perspective on the living.

Charlie is rattled out of his doldrums both by the beautiful sailor girl (the very tolerable Amanda Crew, a young Kate Beckinsale type) and by a visit from Florio (Ray Liotta), the paramedic who revived him after the crash. Florio is himself dying of cancer, and is eager to both impart his dying wisdom to Charlie, and also to explicitly verbalize the movie's squishy themes about fate and destiny and true love.

On paper Charlie Saint Cloud sounds like another melodrama off the Nicholas Sparks Melodrama Assembly Line; it's got a quaint community bordering water, starcrossed young lovers, the black cloud of a family tragedy, and the looming inevitability of a thematically clarifying catastrophe. But director Burr Steers elevates it, if only a little, above drek like The Last Song with a superior sense of pacing, a (relatively) better visual aesthetic, and a dedication to the movie's weird ghost premise.

Steers's previous two films are the Catcher in the Rye knockoff Igby Goes Down and his first collaboration with Zac the Dreamy, Seventeen Again. He's yet to distinguish himself or settle into anything resembling a style, but Charlie Saint Cloud splits the difference between the dimestore artiness of Igby and the blatant commercial appeal of Seventeen Again. He's made three movies so far, none of them good, but there's a hint of promise there that's a little too nagging to ignore.

Speaking of promise, Efron does a passable job. The role demands more than he can give, but he does have a real onscreen presence, and his range certainly extends far beyond that of his peers, notably the stiff vampires and charisma-free werewolves of Twilight. He's still better suited to light comedy, but there may come a day when he can do something interesting with a potentially meatier role. Ten years from now, perhaps he and Steers can reunite for a movie that's more of an unqualified success.