Charlie St. Cloud: Zac Efron Pulls Our Heartstrings

In a go-nowhere Pacific Northwest town, dreamy high-school sailor Charlie (played mostly by Zac Efron's abs and piercing gaze) puts his Stanford scholarship plans on indefinite hold after he momentarily flatlines in a car accident, which also takes his little brother, Sam (Charlie Tahan). Half a decade later, Charlie has sunk into a shy, brooding routine as a cemetery caretaker, and meets his dead bro in the woods every sunset to toss a baseball. Adapted from a 2005 novel by Ben Sherwood, this blatant heartstring-puller from director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) is more sentimental than subtle in depicting a grieving young man whose inability to let go has stunted him. But even at its most maudlin (enter Ray Liotta as the St. Jude–praying, cancer-ridden paramedic who revived Charlie and has suddenly reconnected with him), this handsomely shot melodrama has a twist too peculiar to dismiss as some two-bit Nicholas Sparks weepie. Charlie's way up out of the drain is through the rousing flirtations of saucy redhead Tess (Amanda Crew); simultaneously, the vaguely supernatural device for our pretty-boy hero's coping becomes so literal that Charlie actually bangs a spirit halfway between life and death.

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