While the transition from pin-up to 'serious actor' has left plenty looking like Frank Spencer in the lino episode of 'Some Mother's Do 'Ave 'Em', 'High School Musical' star Zac Efron showed that he had the chops to go with the cheekbones in 'Me and Orson Welles'. But after a giant leap with that movie, he's gone backwards with this one - a teen weepie that fails to make the most of its cast.
School's out forever and Charlie St Cloud (Efron) has the brightest of futures ahead of him. A brilliant sailor, he has won a scholarship to Stanford and now just has to kick around his hometown for the summer, get some money together and mind adored younger brother Sam (Tahan) while their single mother Claire (Basinger) gets all the hours she can at the hospital to keep the family going.
One night Charlie sneaks out of the house to go to a party but wakes up Sam, who demands to be brought to a friend's house or the car's not leaving the driveway. Charlie agrees, and the two set-off on another trip involving wisecracks, horseplay and mock outrage. But half-an-hour later Sam is dead and Charlie is fighting for his life in the back of an ambulance - the victims of a drunk driver.
Five years later Claire has moved away and his friends have followed their dreams but Charlie is still in his hometown. He ditched the scholarship, went from golden boy to oddball and works in the local cemetery so he can be close to Sam. But Charlie does more than just tend to Sam's grave: he 'meets' him every day to throw baseball, talk and keep his spirit alive.
Based on the best-selling book by Ben Sherwood, 'Charlie St Cloud' manages to be touching and frustrating at the same time. Both Efron and younger co-star Tahan are likeable, but the supernatural element doesn't work and becomes less satisfying the longer the film goes on - playing it as a straight drama about loss and healing would've made for a far better story. There's also the problem that having cast two actors of the quality of Basinger and Liotta (who plays the paramedic who saves Charlie), director Steers only puts them in a few scenes. Their absence denies Efron the opportunity to do his best work and leaves the film feeling uneven.
For its target audience, however, 'Charlie St Cloud' will tick a lot of boxes, with a romance, a cute dog, Efron bare-chested and in a wet t-shirt and a big ending all suggesting that one trip to the cinema might not be enough. Those adults who aren't parents or paymasters shouldn't feel the need to make any - this film is a story of what might have been in more ways than one.