Based on an acclaimed novel, Charlie St. Cloud is a romantic drama starring Zac Efron as a young man who survives an accident that lets him see the world in a unique way. In this emotionally charged story, he begins a romantic journey in which he embraces the dark realities of the past while discovering the transformative power of love.
Accomplished sailor Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) has the adoration of mother Claire (Kim Basinger) and little brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), as well as a college scholarship that will lead him far from his sleepy Pacific Northwest hometown. But his bright future is cut short when a tragedy strikes and takes his dreams with it.
After his high-school classmate Tess (Amanda Crew) returns home unexpectedly, Charlie grows torn between honoring a promise he made four years earlier and moving forward with newfound love. And as he finds the courage to let go of the past for good, Charlie discovers the soul most worth saving is his own.
I never read Ben Sherwood's The Death and Life of Charlie St. Cloud, nor did I even hear about it until the film was made. Never in a million years did I expect to actually want to do so, based on the film. I say that, because I've not been all that impressed with the filmography of one Zac Efron, tweenie sensation, who just may be the lesser of two evils compared to Robert Pattinson or Taylor Lautner. It seemed as though anything he touched either turned to junk, or was junk to begin with, so pardon my trepidation. 'Hairspray' was an absolute disaster, '17 Again' was even worse, if that's possible, and I have a rule about keeping Disney channel films no closer than three hundred feet from my Blu-ray player at all times.
I must say, it feels weird to have actually enjoyed a Zac Efron film, directed by Burr Steers (aka the guy who directed '17 Again'), so much that I'd actually want to sit down to the book to see the supposed differences and omissions for myself. They sound interesting! It also feels incredibly weird to actually be in the minority when somewhat liking an Efron film.
Charlie St. Cloud (Efron) is a boat racing prodigy, recent high school grad, and the winner of a free-ride to the college that could put his life on the maps. But a car accident changes everything when it kills his brother Sam (Charlie Tahan) and barely grants him a second chance at life after a flatline. Five years later, Charlie has yet to go to college, and instead lives in a shack at the local cemetery, working tending the grass and cleaning the graves, but he doesn't mind, as every day, an hour before sundown, he heads off in the forest to play baseball with his dead brother. While everyone around him thinks he's lost his marbles long ago, he may be the town hero once more when another local boat racer (Amanda Crew as Tess) goes missing a week before her scheduled race around the world.
I know, I know, I'm going to catch flack for saying anything nice about this film. Critics were harsh on it, audiences actually avoided it (marking another poor turnout for an Efron film, whose box office take shrinks with every picture), and, surprisingly, not once did I see the book suddenly in store windows or shelves due to the tie-in. It seemed like a failure, a cash-in attempt that went bust, and I do mean cash-in, as the film rights were bought before the book was even published. I'm not going to praise the acting, really, as it is still quite rank, but instead, I'm going to praise the effort, especially since this film wasn't awful, despite having both Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta, two horrible past-their-prime actors indeed.
The idea of not letting go of a deceased loved one isn't all that new, but I did find the way that the deceased loved one refused to let go of his brother was a nice, nice touch that made this film actually have some heart, even if it lacked brains sometimes. That's saying a lot, too, considering my deep seated hatred for child acting. Sure, it's cliche in the worst of 'The Sixth Sense' way to have someone see dead people, and it's particularly 'Jonah Hex'-ish that St. Cloud's ability to do so is probably linked to the fact that he was, for a period, dead, but the film doesn't go all supernatural on us so much as it makes us wonder about sentimentality, and the ability to let go, instead of forming habits and promises that one cannot possibly keep and still move forward in their life.
And that is why I found 'Charlie St. Cloud' to be an interesting film. It provides us with a positive lesson rather than a guilt trip. The film offers a fascinating look at the human psyche, especially if one ignores the presence of the dead brother as a supernatural element as much as it could be a mental projection. I know I did, and it made the film that much better (and yes, I know that's cheating).
Of course, the romantic subplot is a failure, and that's my main concern with this film. Efron has no chemistry with Crew, and their entire story feels rushed at first (until one realizes the circumstances behind them, that are slightly predictable, with a twist), but that can be forgiven due to the fact that this film doesn't waste our time with the secondary characters and other ridiculous side plots, and instead shows us someone who loses the will to even do something with himself due to the guilt over what has happened in his past.
Give me hell, dear readers, because I'm giving 'Charlie St. Cloud' a positive recommendation. It could have been so very much worse than I expected (and honestly braced for), and instead it was so much more enjoyable that I honestly must give it its dues.
The Disc: Vital Stats
'Charlie St. Cloud' arrives on Blu-ray on a Region ABC BD50 Dual Layer Disc, housed in a standard (non eco-cut-out!) BD case. There is no pre-menu content, save for a screen advertising the ability to download and view one of two films, one of the film's extras, which has been Universal's new selling point, rather than actually giving us the Blu-ray releases for said bonus films.
I do have to gripe about this disc, though. I absolutely was disgusted by the fact that, when I went to view the extras for this review, I got prompted to use SocialBlu, another one of Universal's BD features. If I wanted to use said feature, I'd do so and I really hate the fact that I had to tell this disc that no, I do not want to use it. I wanted to see the deleted scenes, not be bugged about some gimmick that utilizes technology that I personally don't use. I'd rather control the disc with my remote control or PS3 controller, and if I want to Tweet about the film, I'll do so on Twitter, not through my damn disc.
'Charlie St. Cloud' is given a 1080p AVC MPEG-4 encode at 2.40:1 that is visually pleasing, though nowhere near demo material.
The picture is very deep, and often has a great amount of detail, but there are a few small things that grow to be large issues over the course of the film, particularly skin tones, which run a bit hot, a few bits of blurriness, crush and shadow detail issues, as well as some incredibly murky moments that are quite tough on detail. I enjoyed the nice clean edges that helped stray hairs and fabric pop, and the lack of tampering in post, but this release is too similar to so many we've seen in the past: good details that are never great, that fade to crap in the dark.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track for 'Charlie St. Cloud' isn't so much bad as it is annoying. Annoyingly, excessively loud. The opening of the film is one of the worst offenders, as it blares, with elements drowning out, and the soundtrack acting like white noise, though any moment meant to be emphatic also suffers this fate. The film has plenty of rear activity, nearly constant, to the point that I was pleasantly surprised, though it had its moments of indiscernible noise, as well. We get plenty of waves crashing through the room, and a few other small bits of movement, though localization is hardly utilized. Bass levels aren't too active, though they do accent music to help drown out smaller noises. This one is a lose-lose situation: play it at a normal volume level, and be yelled at, or crank it down, and then not hear some lines of dialogue.
All of the extras from the DVD find their way onto this disc.
'Charlie St. Cloud' didn't do well with critics or audiences. This much is true. But I still found it to be pretty enjoyable, probably the best film involving Efron so far. The Blu-ray release has good video, annoying audio, an average pile of extras, and some damn annoying features. I'd say buy it, but I know this film will be met with lukewarm reception yet again when it hits shelves this week, so just rent it first.