Charlie St. Cloud
2/5   UK title: Death & Life of Charlie St. Cloud
dir Burr Steers; scr Craig Pearce, Lewis Colick
prd Michael Fottrell, Marc Platt
with Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan, Amanda Crew, Augustus Prew, Donal Logue, Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta, Dave Franco, Matt Ward, Miles Chalmers, Jesse Wheeler, Desiree Zurowski release US 30.Jul.10, UK 8.Oct.10
10/US Universal 1h39
Charlie St. Cloud
Sail away: Tahan and Efron

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Charlie St. Cloud Another solid performance by Zac Efron is flattened by bombastic filmmaking; this weepy drama couldn't be any more obvious if it tried. It's impossible to imagine that the director of Igby Goes Down made this glossed-over mess.

Charlie (Efron) is a golden boy with a sailing scholarship to Stanford, an adoring little brother (Tahan) and a glamorous, hard-working single mum (Basinger). But when Sam dies in a car crash, Charlie spends the next five years wallowing in his grief. He's also able to see dead people, including Sam, whom he meets every evening for baseball practice in the woods near the cemetery where he works as caretaker. Then adventure sailor Tess (crew) returns to town to prepare for a round-the-world race and suddenly Charlie is doubting his lonely life.

Efron is a likable and gifted actor, and his skill transcends the film's overpowering warm glow. Although he's also perhaps too gorgeous to be the town nutjob, with his often muscled torso often shirtless and/or wet. His loyal fanbase will love this, but it seriously undermines both the premise and Efron's emotionally resonant performance. The supporting cast is also good in much thinner-defined characters, including Crew's wisecracking Russell Brand-alike.

But the film is doomed from the start by Enrique Chediak's overwrought cinematography, which never stops swooping through the sky or seeking out beams of sunlight long. And Rolfe Kent's score is even worse, telegraphing every "surprise" with a sweep of screaming violins. So the plot's one surprise is painfully obvious very early on. The result is a film with a decent cast but not a single believable scene.

Underlying all of this is a script that piles on the cliches in a never-ending attempt to coax a badly animated tear from our eye. There's a strong story and some very good acting buried in this flood of ruthless sentimentality. And when a film is as pushy as this one, it's impossible to engage with anything. So while the cast members escape with their dignity intact, any audience member who actually enjoys this film should hang their head in shame.

cert 12 themes, language, violence 4.Oct.10

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