Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) is a small-town hero and an accomplished sailor who has it all: the adoration of his mother and younger brother, and a Stanford scholarship. However, his bright future is cut short when tragedy strikes and takes his dreams with it. Now, Charlie is torn between honoring a promise he made years ago and pursuing his newfound love with a former high school classmate.
Teen heartthrob Zac Efron (High School Musical, 17 Again) makes an appealing, and wise, choice as the star of Charlie St. Cloud. Efron is able to flex his dramatic acting abilities and can stretch, ever so slightly, into a more adult role, without alienating or being off-putting to his dedicated young fans. And Efron shows signs of being a terrific young actor, with nuanced skills that have perhaps been overlooked until now, because of his appealing pinup-boy looks. Efron is delicious eye candy in Charlie St. Cloud, no question (though he has to share some of that role with the beautiful British Columbia coastline where the film is set), but he also carries the entire film, which manages to be family drama, tragedy, adventure, and budding love story--with a good dose of "live your life to the fullest" advice built in. Efron plays the title character, a gifted student and sailor who gets a full scholarship to Stanford. But right after graduation, Charlie is involved in a life-changing tragedy--one that shatters his family and his own sense of his place in the world. Efron's Charlie is a lost young man, dedicated to the aftereffects of the tragic accident, and turns from promising young upstart to pitiable recluse--so reclusive that he lives and works at the local graveyard. The entire cast is wonderful, and they put their hearts into the sad, yet ultimately uplifting story. Young Charlie Tahan is winsome as Charlie's younger brother, Sam. Kim Basinger, too long away from the big screen, is grounded and believable as the boys' hard-working single mom. Ray Liotta plays a memorable cameo as a paramedic who helps save Charlie after the accident. And Amanda Crew is spunky and adorable as the independent young sailor with a secret crush on Charlie--the "old" Charlie, who was still interested in embracing life--and with possibly the only lifeline that Charlie might actually grab. The chemistry between Efron and Crew is sparkly, and Efron fans will enjoy seeing their idol in more mature love scenes. But not too mature--the raciest of the romance scenes involves Efron (not Crew) taking off his shirt--to fans' delight. If Charlie St. Cloud isn't too original in its plotting, nor especially crisp in its direction, it doesn't matter--Efron's screen appeal is plenty to propel both the story and the action. Efron fans of all ages will enjoy watching the young actor begin the process of growing up--just a bit--onscreen. --A.T. Hurley