14 January 2011

DVD Review: Charlie St. Cloud


If “Charlie St. Cloud” made me feel anything, it’s a sense of sympathy for Zac Efron. A capable star with stacks of physical skill and oodles of charisma, Efron really ought to be doing better work than this. He gives “Charlie St. Cloud” a good old college try, and is probably the movie’s only true dramatic asset, but that still can’t excuse the dismal script selection he evidenced when signing onto this underwhelming mess.

Struggling after the death of his brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) has given up his future so he can frequent with the ghost of his deceased sibling everyday at sunset. Once a brilliant sailor with a promising education ahead of him, Charlie is now regarded as a handsome but slightly loopy local weirdo. Devoted completely to the spirit of Sam, things are complicated when a previous sailing competitor Tess (Amanda Crew) takes a liking to the reclusive hunk, offering feelings that Charlie soon feels himself reciprocating. Thus he must make a choice, to stay stuck in the past with Sam, or to move forward in his life with the promise of potential romance.

I’m not sure if it’s the case, but “Charlie St. Cloud” feels like a movie that suffered from studio interference. The structure of the product is scrappy and the tone uneven, resulting in an artistic experience that fails to do justice to any of its multiple themes or plot arcs. At times “Charlie St. Cloud” handles itself with a surprising lack of sentimentality, director Burr Steers’ cinematic style shining through in several edgier and more emotionally grounded sequences. However in other moments the production is a mawkish disaster, a vomit inducing blend of artificial relationships and saccharine screenwriting. The story as a whole is pretty poor, so this distractingly uncertain combination of moods is only worsening an already dodgy prospect, but still, it’s always interesting to speculate what causes such unbalanced filmmaking.

The movie’s production design is rather picturesque, but that’s where the praise largely ends. The script is a horribly clich├ęd and thoroughly predictable bore, a rancid tearjerker of the first order. The picture bounces around several ideas and concepts that it doesn’t deserve to possess, and it’s exploration of death is painfully contrived. “Charlie St. Cloud” just doesn’t have the skill or conviction behind it for any sort of fully realised connection with audiences, the characters and dynamics onscreen aren’t original or honest enough to cultivate emotional resonance. Supporting figures are tossed into the mix with reckless abandon, yet so very few of them leave any worthy or even discernable mark on the plot.

Efron is clearly giving it his best shot, and does admittedly impress sporadically. However on the whole he is let down by inept writing and the various underlying inconsistencies that haunt the picture; preventing his turn from being truly memorable. Amanda Crew looks good but offers her character no depth, whilst Charlie Tahan is more irritating than anything else as the spiky Sam. A host of famous faces sift in and out of proceedings with no real purpose, watching Kim Basinger, Ray Liotta and Donal Logue ply their talents to such fruitless material marks a particular low point for viewers. In fairness Tahan and Efron do feel somewhat like brothers in the way they interact, but that’s overtly counterpointed by the fact the latter and Amanda Crew have no viable chemistry, failing to convince as fuck buddies, let alone soul mates.

“Charlie St. Cloud” isn’t a picture I would recommend, even to Efron diehards. It fails in nearly every conceivable fashion, its climactic message leaving no imprint on one’s memory. Ultimately it’s the messy nature of this beast that kills it, but in truth the screenplay was probably a dud from the moment pen hit paper. Hopefully its talented leading man can move onto better things, and leave pap like this wedged firmly behind a closed door.

The disc comes equipped with a commentary from director Burr Steers, a dry listen and one that feels slight when it comes to actual filmmaking insight. Certainly if there were any behind the scenes gripes, the director is keeping quiet about them on the basis of this track. Several forgettable deleted scenes are also on show, alongside some exceedingly fluffy and congratulatory featurettes focusing on Efron. Got to give the teenage girls something I suppose. Rounding out the mediocre package is a 9-minute feature that explores communicating with the dead. It’s hokey as all hell, but also good for a few giggles.

“Charlie St. Cloud” is available to own and rent on DVD and Blu-Ray from February 7th 2011.

(N.B - Universal provided a screener of “Charlie St. Cloud” for review, and thus because it may not be representative of retail quality, I have neglected to assess the disc’s audio and video capabilities)

A Review by Daniel Kelly, 2011


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