Monday, August 2, 2010

CHARLIE ST. CLOUD

Review: Charlie St. Cloud
3 stars (out of 5)
By R. Kurt Osenlund

If Zac Efron were working with better material, were a little bit older and weren't, well, Zac Efron, he'd garner some serious praise for his work in “Charlie St. Cloud,” a spiritual drama that's based on a 2004 Ben Sherwood novel but basically exists to serve as the “High School Musical” grad's first dramatic star vehicle. In the pop-culture-conscious mind (or, at least, in one that thinks in stereotypes), the word “dramatic” doesn't exactly fit nicely into conversations about teen idols. Yet, I didn't catch a single false note in Efron's “Cloud” performance – no strained responses, no glaring inexperience, no histrionic, black-and-white extremes to swallow up the necessary emotional gray area. In short, none of the typical teen idol stuff.

Clearly approaching his career with DiCaprio-like determination, Efron, 22, is a talented, consummate professional, and I think it's safe to assume he'll be headlining many films for many years to come. In “Cloud,” despite some stoic stares, he never fails to connect with the audience, and his performance – a balancing act of maintaining a non-listless nonchalance and purifying bumper-sticker dialogue with pitch-perfect line readings – is as good a case as any of a hot young star proving himself beyond his looks. Which is not to say, in any form or fashion, that Efron's reduce-to-a-puddle looks don't benefit him and the film tremendously. At times, it's almost comical how absurdly attractive this kid is. With his thick eyebrows, elfin nose, gleaming ivories and casting-director-friendly muscles, he's a bred-for-cinema hunk in the tradition of James Dean. And director Burr Steers (Efron's “17 Again”) doesn't squander a bit of his young star's assets, seizing every opportunity to swim in his blue-lagoon eyes. (You know someone was considering "Dreamboat" as the title for this nautical-themed film.)

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