Sorry, Charlie 

A pretty girl, a prettier guy, and a ghostly little brother form a triangle involving a choice of either romantic love in the present or supernatural connection with the past for the troubled protagonist in “Charlie St. Cloud.”

Grief gets the schmaltz treatment in this contrived drama, and the result is greeting-card cinema strictly for teens and the cosmetically minded.

The director is Burr Steers, a former offbeatnik (“Igby Goes Down”) who seems to be channeling early M. Night Shyamalan and positioning himself as Garry Marshall’s heir here. Additional culprits include screenwriters Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick, adapting Ben Sherwood’s novel.

Set in the Pacific Northwest, the film stars Zac Efron as Charlie, a local sailing star who, following a car crash, is resuscitated from flat-line status by a paramedic (Ray Liotta).

Charlie’s 11-year-old brother, Sammy ­(Charlie Tahan), dies in the accident, and, shattered and guilt-plagued, Charlie shelves his college plans and becomes a caretaker at the cemetery. There, he sees dead people, including Sammy.

Charlie’s internal tug-of-war is between a devotion to the dead Sammy — whom Charlie meets daily in the woods for baseball practice — and a romance with the very alive Tess (Amanda Crew), a young sailor preparing for an around-the-world race. A third-act crisis forces Charlie to choose his path.

Steers alternates between the Charlie-Tess love story and the Charlie-Sammy baseball interactions, and neither is credible or compelling. Virtually everything in the filmmaking arena goes wrong.

The plot, which includes a visit from the paramedic, who informs Charlie that God has spared him for a reason, unfolds like a connect-the-dots string of contrivances. The tone is saccharine. The paranormal twists are muddy. The romantic scenes rarely go deeper than surface glamour.

The feel-good presentation of the grief and survivor-guilt issues, topics that might prove box-office-unfriendly if treated with due darkness, is particularly problematic. Regardless of what this movie thinks, a guy in his 20s frolicking with his dead brother isn’t behavior suitable for a music-video-style passage. And dead precocious movie kids are just as tedious as live ones.

Efron, meanwhile, who’s known for lighter fare such as the “High School Musical” projects and Steers’ own “17 Again,” doesn’t supply the dramatic heft necessary to enable his character to make an emotional impression over all the syrup.

Not that he gets much support. With thoughts of teen ticket-buyers on the brain, the movie seems intent on presenting Efron in a heartthrob glow. One consequence of this is that Charlie has an almost other-worldly look, never mind that his struggle involves a very earthly form of ­depression.

The cast also includes Kim Basinger, with surprisingly little to do as Charlie’s mother.


MOVIE REVIEW

Charlie St. Cloud (1½ stars)

Starring Zac Efron, Amanda Crew, Charlie Tahan, Ray Liotta

Written by Craig Pearce, Lewis Colick

Directed by Burr Steers

Rated PG-13

Running time 1 hour 49 minutes

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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