Mash The Lovely Bones, Remember Me, and The Sixth Sense together and you get Charlie St. Cloud, Zac Efron‘s second attempt to Get Serious as a grieving older brother who sees dead people. Based on a novel that, unbelievably, is not by Nicholas Sparks, the film is a tunnel-vision look at life, death, taking chances, second chances, not not living, letting go, and being vulnerable, all of which is cheesed up by that Lovely Bones business about the “in-between.”
Charlie (Efron) has just graduated high school and is looking forward to spending the summer with his only brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan), before leaving for college on a sailing scholarship. Sam’s obsessed with baseball, so Charlie promises to practice with him daily, same place, same time, no excuses. But when their overworked Mom (Kim Basinger, underworked in a barely-there part) leaves Charles in charge one night, they sneak out for a drive—-and it doesn’t take much time before you guess that their good-natured goofing off will end tragically. Charlie flat-lines but is brought back to life by a St. Jude-medallion-wearing paramedic (Ray Liotta); Sam isn’t so lucky.
Charlie’s guilt and grief paralyze him into putting off college, giving up sailing, and becoming the groundskeeper at Sam’s cemetery. Part of his unwillingness to do anything else with his life is because he can still see Sam, and each day at dusk they toss around the ball as if the accident never happened. Five years later, Charlie meets Tess (Amanda Crew), an attractive and skilled sailor who makes him reconsider his isolation. (Also, the paramedic runs into him again, urging him to get out in the world and figure out why God gave him another chance.) Their dates, however, eventually interfere with Sam time. Whom will he choose?
17 Again director Burr Steers delivers a film that is alternately moving, inspiring, sexy, and a little bit creepy. It’s easy to go along with its superficial sentimentality—-Efron may not be Laurence Olivier, but he’s pretty enough, and Charlie and Sam’s relationship charming enough, to keep the Hallmark moments watchable.
But then the story pushes its luck with the supernatural element until you can’t continue to be forgiving. After skipping the five years between Sam’s death and Charlie’s flirtation with a new life, the movie rushes things along until characters and developments no longer feel organic; soon every plot turn has you thinking, Really? This again? The schmaltz ramps up quickly, inverse to your willingness to care, regardless of the handsomeness of the angst.