Crafting a successful career is all about making choices, so I suspect that it’s going to be a major disappointment to Zac Efron that he dropped out the upcoming remake of “Footloose” to headline this murky romantic melodrama, set in the scenic Pacific Northwest.
Before his car was hit by a drunk driver on a rainy night, Charlie St. Cloud (Efron) had everything to look forward to, including a sailing scholarship to Stanford University. But when his kid brother, Sam (newcomer Charlie Tahan), dies in that automobile accident, grieving Charlie is riddled with guilt. Paramedic Florio Ferrente (Ray Liotta) notes that Charlie’s heartbeat went flat but then resumed normally, meaning Charlie’s been given a second chance at life. For five years afterward, Charlie seeks redemption by playing catch with Sam’s ghost, promising to be with the Boston Red Sox-loving eleven year-old every day at sunset – the same time in the same place. To that end, Charlie takes the job of caretaker, living in the cemetery where Sam is buried, much to the chagrin of his hard-working single mother (Kim Basinger) and his high-school classmate, Tess Carroll (Amanda Crew), who yearns for him to return to the land of the living: “God has a plan for you.”
Based on a popular 2005 novel by Ben Sherwood, it’s been adapted by Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, ethereally photographed by Enrique Chediak and directed by Burr Steers (“17 Again,” “Igby Goes Down”), evoking “seeing dead people” memories of M. Night Shayamalan’s far-better “The Sixth Sense.” Hunky Zach Efron’s performance is so restrained that it might even be called stilted, which is too bad because his work gets better with each project. Originally, shooting was scheduled for Marblehead, Masachusetts, but moved to Vancouver, British Columbia, where the green restaurant by the wharf, “Flynn’s Ranch,” is actually the popular “Molly’s Reach” from “The Beachcombers” TV series.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, “Charlie St. Cloud” floats in with a faltering, formulaic 4. It’s a supernatural, spiritual, sentimental sob-story that doesn’t quite work.