The life of a film blogger isn't all free DVDs and film festivals, as proved this past week when I've gone from the incredible high of posting what turned out to be a pretty popular Groundhog Day article, to watching a film starring Zac Efron about a dude who has to weigh up playing baseball with the ghost of his little brother or getting laid. Gosh, high concept films have really hit the shitter...
Hang on- a baseball film with ghosts in it? Haven't I heard that somewhere before?
Anyway... Zac Efron must have been rubbing his hands with glee when Robert Pattinson burst onto the tween scene a couple of years back, given his own unfortunately gripping association with High School Musical, yet you wouldn't think he was all that keen for audiences to forget his past appearances considering some of the odd choices he has made since. It appears that Efron is destined to suffer the injustice of never casting off the shadow of the vehicle that launched him (take heed Daniel Radcliffe)- especially if he remains content to make films like this.
Charlie St Cloud is yet another uninspiring choice: the film prefers to pull rather cynically at the heart strings, to the detriment of any actual brains. I mean, director Burr Stevens even says in the Audio Commentary that the film feels too forced at times, and he made the bloody thing! If any one film perfectly epitomises the word "mawkish", this would be it- not only is it sentimental in a sickly manner, it also has a faint sickly flavour.
Not that Efron is terrible. He does quite reasonably with the material, and he is genuinely sympathetic in certain parts, but his performance is a drop in the ocean of sickly sentimentalism, and in all honesty he is crowded somewhat by Kim Basinger's awfully off-putting mother, and a horribly annoying performance by Charlie Tahan, who clearly hasn't yet learnt restraint. But really I just don't think Efron needs to make a film like this any more. I would love to see him play a part as dangerously different as Elijah Wood playing Kevin in Sin City to cast off the shadow of Frodo Baggins. At least then he might be able to show off some of the acting skills I don't doubt he has...
It is an odd thing indeed when a film tries so very hard to rely on cliched and corny cheap tricks, and fails so badly to conceal those tricks to such an extent that you're greeted more by a pastiche of those tricks than an actual film. It's like an ensemble movie where the only pleasure is in seeing which actors are appearing in over-paid, under-exposed cameos, only the stars are dirty weepy tricks, and there's very little pleasure to be had in the cumulative effect of them. It's like being bludgeoned to death by someone who is really insistent that they want you to cry.
But then, it's not all that surprising- it's a film about a grieving Zac Efron character who learns to find love. The concept in itself sounds like teary-tween gold, but the execution fatally underestimates its intended audiences' intelligence. Even an audience willing to hemorrhage millions of dollars in the direction of Twilight won't be fooled by this flimsy sham of a movie, and the low cinematic traffic already announced as much.
At first, it all looks pretty good- the film is impressively detailed in most places and there's a nice rich depth to the transfer, but as time passes, some problems pop their heads up. Skin tones are clearly turned up too high, and it seems a particular shame to put a fair old bit of work into making detail stand out, and edges impeccably sharp when that quality is immediately and markedly compromised when the film turns to darkness.
The audio is about the same quality- with some elements (including background noise) working pretty well, but a few major problems undoing all the good. The dialogue levels are all over the place, with listening on a normal audio level ruled out as an option by the blaring dialogue that spoils 90% of the soundtrack.
Audio Commentary - With Burr Steers. Deleted Scenes (10 mins) - With optional commentary from Burr Steers. On Location with Zac Efron (12 mins) Zac Efron, Leading Man (7 mins) The In-Between World (10 mins) Charlie St. Cloud is released on Blu-ray today.