High-school senior Charlie St. Cloud has it all: a full college scholarship, friends who adore him—and he’s played by Zac Efron! The future is as bright as his piercing baby blues, which don’t look like they’ve seen a day of disappointment. But wait...is that a drunk driver there in the distance, barreling toward baby brother Sam (Tahan)?
Suffice to say that Charlie’s dreams are shattered in an instant. Suddenly, this toothily grinning extrovert becomes a brooding (but still perfectly groomed) recluse, working as caretaker for the local cemetery. His days are consumed by chasing a flock of shit-happy ducks, his evenings devoted to playing catch with Sam, since Charlie can now talk to the dead.
Cue those weepy violins. Indeed, you get everything you’d expect from this mostly saccharine melodrama: Hallmark aphorisms, picturesque locales, a St. Jude--stumping paramedic (Liotta). Yet it feels as if director Burr Steers is trying to cast a more complicated eye on things, to the point that Charlie’s otherworldly encounters waffle between seeming divine and delusional. And one scene—a nighttime idyll between Charlie and his soulmate-of-a-sort, Tess (Crew)—is like Mizoguchi gone tween. Shallow homilies ultimately dominate, but there’s a deeper movie trying to get out from behind the greeting card.—Keith Uhlich