"The film does contain substance, as well as a sweaty, shirtless hunk, although possibly more of the latter"
Without wanting to betray my own gender, and our ability to watch a film of substance without needing a sweaty, shirtless hunk to carry us through to the credits, I feel that I may be slightly biased in my affections for the life and death of Charlie at. Cloud. However The film does indeed contain substance, as well as a sweaty, shirtless hunk, although possibly more of the latter.
The film may be cryptically named The Life And Death Of Charlie St.Cloud, which may be confusing unless you are unfamiliar with the teen God Zac Efron and the Director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) who previously directed Efron in 17 Again, in which case you can relax in the knowledge that this film is not going to be the most taxing 99 minutes you'll have to sit through. However, it is mostly an enjoyable 99 minutes, in that if nothing else, at least Zac Efron can act. In fact one could argue that this teen ghost story is possibly a poor vehicle for Efron's ever improving and impressive acting talent. Like his character Zac Efron is stuck in limbo as far as his acting roles are concerned. While he has technically almost left the land of teen comedy, he hasn't quite reached the realms of serious adult male lead, but if there's anything Charlie St.Cloud can tell us, it's that he is going to make a great one. In the meantime however, Charlie St.Cloud is as in-between genres as it's lead. Part romance, part ghost story, the film feels adult and heavy enough in it's tragedy, yet seen through the eyes of it's mostly early 20's cast, it still ends up feeling like a post adolescent 'Ghost' mixed with 'The Sixth Sense'.
As the star and almost sole captain of this nautical themed, ghost romance, Zac literally steals the show (and possibly even more girls hearts) as he plays the broody, mysterious and practically mute Charlie St.Cloud. The film starts five years ago showing Charlie as your typical outdoorsy all American teen, with enviable energy, charisma and a passion for sail boat racing which he shares with his earnest little brother, 10-year-old Sam (Charlie Tahan: I Am Legend). The film plays out their relationship for a while, building up the suspense, as you wait for the inevitable, horrible moment we know is coming. This happens soon enough as we witness Charlie in a horrendous, and devastating car crash, of which he is the driver. This is where the death part comes in. Charlie st.cloud technically dies, but is revived by a heartwarming and persistent paramedic played by Ray Liotta, who rather than being the bringer of death as we are used to seeing Liotta,is the giver of life, in a touching and significant, if somewhat short role. Charlie's beloved brother Sam St.Cloud, however, is not so lucky and is definitely dead, as opposed to Charlie who is now more like the walking dead. Do not fear though, this is not a teen vampire movie, and unlike the po-faced characters of Twilight, Charlie's reluctant position as brooding local loony, is justified. Five years on we understand the title of the film, in that the once full of life Charlie has turned his back on his Stanford scholarship, and his sailing and lives in a run down cottage as the care taker of the grave yard where his brother is buried. We soon find out why, as the only contact Charlie seems to have is with his dead brothers ghost who Charlie can now see thanks to his few minutes on the other side when he flat lined. Racked with guilt and unable to move on, Charlie makes a pact with Sam to practice baseball with him every day at sunset. Both brothers live out their version of limbo, with only each other for comfort as they refuse to accept reality. That is until Charlie meets a girl from his past, not unlike old Charlie, with a passion for sailing and full of life, or so we think. Tess (Amanda Crew: The Haunting in Connecticut, Final Destination 3) is a refreshing character, who unlike so many female love interests of this genre is adventurous, ballsy, stubborn and has interests that go beyond finding the right shoes to go with the right guy. Their romance is believable, not at all predictable and paths the way for charlies re entry into the real world.
Despite the fact that zac takes his shirt off enough times to tip this film into definite tween territory, The Life And Death of Charlie St.Cloud is moving, and poignant if only due to Zac Efron's ability to navigate a saccharine script and make us sympathise with his characters plight, which he does with great sincerity and earnest, and with a skill set far removed from his High School Musical days. Ultimately, the vehicle for this story, based on the book by Ben Sherwood, remains firmly in the post teen universe, but it's own take on the afterlife is at least touching if not profound, and any film that deals with the subject of life and death whilst simultaneously juggling the expectations and perceptions of a Zac Efron film, and delivers, is worth a viewing, no matter how many times zac takes his shirt off.