Efron, the High School Musical darling, can’t be 17 Again, but he can choose whether to continue to lure crowds who enjoy watching him emote with perfect lighting, arched eyebrows, lush eyelashes and tight abs. In 2009 Efron actually inched away from this type-casting, showing promise in Me and Orson Welles, which yielded upbeat reviews.
The Village Voice’s Aaron Hillis stands alone in giving Charlie St. Cloud its only moderately positive review so far:
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 who’s been stunted by his inability to let go. 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 weepy.
EW’s Owen Gleiberman:
The surreal thing is, Zac Efron can’t do despair. He plays it by staring. Blankly. And by not smiling. Blankly. Those sky blue eyes of his may be moody, but in Charlie St. Cloud they have only one mood — a fake-profound, lost-idol tranquillity. Instead of making you weep, he puts you in a coma. Charlie St. Cloud is as wholesome as a Miley Cyrus movie, only without the energy.
Nick Schager of Slant Magazine not only finds that “former A-lister Kim Basinger’s cursory cameo as Charlie’s mom is depressing,” but adds:
Efron—habitually shot staring off into the distance, his face seemingly digitally airbrushed of blemishes—can’t come close to expressing his contrived character’s longing, hurt, and guilt…it falls apart during those moments when its protagonist broods intensely, culminating in a laughable scene in which Efron drowns his misery with a bottle of Jack Daniels. Far too pretty-boy insubstantial to carry the emotional drama of even a hoary melodramatic trifle like this, Efron only appears comfortable when asked to pose like a J. Crew model aboard a racing boat or sitting on a lighthouse perch.
Time Out New York’s Keith Uhlich believes you get “everything you’d expect” from this 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.
And finally, Peter Travers sums it up:
You can’t shine a turd…This movie is dead on arrival.