‘Charlie St. Cloud’ is mournful, confusing tearjerker

Movie at a glance

“Charlie St. Cloud”

2 out of 4 stars

100 minutes

Starring: Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta.

Now playing at West Theatre.

What if instead of being suspenseful and creepy, “The Sixth Sense” was just melancholy and weepy? It would probably be a lot more like the drama “Charlie St. Cloud,” for one thing, and Haley Joel Osment would have faded into obscurity.

Fortunately, the star of the newer of the two still has something going for him.

Besides abnormally thick eyebrows.

New high school graduate Charlie St. Cloud (Zac Efron) has a great life and a bright future, heading for Stanford University on a sailing scholarship, ready to do his hometown proud. But, one person is not so enthusiastic about Charlie’s move to college — his 11-year-old brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), who worships him and fears that his big brother will walk out of his life forever like their absentee father.

Though Charlie continually assures his younger sibling that it won’t happen, he is the one in need of comfort when Sam is killed in a car accident.

Racked with survivor’s guilt, Charlie is unable to move on, even after five years, forsaking all his dreams to honor his promise to Sam, whose spirit Charlie interacts with on a daily basis.

However, meeting fellow seafarer Tess (Amanda Crew) changes everything, as Charlie is torn between his brother’s memory and finally getting on with his life.

Efron gives a good showing in a needlessly convoluted role. It’s not hard to understand Charlie’s grief-stricken lifestyle, but what is unclear is how he does some of the things he does, namely playing an ongoing game of catch with the ghost of his brother every night at sunset.

Tahan isn’t giving any answers as the prepubescent specter, but he does get some points for keeping it real and being a typically annoying little brother in life and in death rather than a kid who’s unrealistically wise beyond his years.

Crew works well as Charlie’s love interest, who has plenty in common with him, having experienced her own loss with the death of her father and preparing for six months at sea in an ambitious nautical competition.

The most accomplished actors in the cast also seem to be the ones with the least to do, as Kim Basinger and Ray Liotta appear for crucial but brief parts, she as Charlie’s overworked mother and he as the paramedic who brings Charlie back to life after the accident and years later attempts to convince him that God kept him alive for a reason.

The perception of the afterlife in this movie is, at best, murky, and at worst, completely nonsensical, as the title character begins to become obsessed with the dearly departed, adding to his otherworldly circle of friends a high school buddy (Dave Franco) killed in the line of duty. Then again, it’s hard not to do so when you work in and practically live in a cemetery as Charlie does.

The entire film has a gloomy quality to it that works at certain points and drags it down in others. The scenery of Charlie’s small Pacific Northwest town is nice to look at — Though how many shots of the marina and the lighthouse do we really need? — but, ultimately, this isn’t much different from any other portrait of a person coping with the unexpected loss of a loved one. A mid-story plot twist helps, but it doesn’t quite differentiate it from the rest of the pack, among them 1980s definitive “Ordinary People” and the recent “The Greatest.”

The failing of “Charlie St. Cloud” is that it doesn’t work as a straightforward drama, and screenwriters Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick don’t bother to bring out the necessary details of Ben Sherwood’s novel on which the story is based.

Let’s face it: The teenage girls in the crowd just want to see Efron’s sad puppy face, at which he excels, and the rest of his time on screen isn’t bad, either. But, the fact that Charlie’s hair is always perfectly tousled and gelled at all times even when wet — that’s what’s really chilling.

Now playing at the West Theatre.

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