Charlie St. Cloud, Zac Efron, Charlie Tahan

Diyah Pera/Universal Pictures

Review in a Hurry: Sort of a Sixth Sense without that freaky, scary feel, Charlie St. Cloud is a well-crafted tearjerker with a grown-up performance from Zac Efron. If you don't mind risking dehydration, it's the movie for you.

The Bigger Picture: Charlie (Zac Efron) sees dead people—mostly, his younger brother Sam (Charlie Tahan), who dies with Charlie in a car crash. Charlie was resuscitated; Sam kept going towards the light but stopped just short of stepping over to the other side. He and Charlie have a sunset meeting every day to play catch. Unwilling to break their supernatural playdate, Charlie throws away a sailing scholarship to Stanford and ends up taking care of the cemetery where his brother is buried.

The appearance of lissome Tess (Amanda Crew) shakes up both Charlie's life, and the movie, with a clever twist—well, you might see it coming a mile away, but no matter. The life-affirming plot takes a somewhat depressing movie and gives it a feel-good gloss, like a smart weepy should.

The movie has a scattering of silly sentiment, but refuses to rely on melodrama clichés. Director Burr Steers (17 Again) and writers Craig Pearce and Lewis Colick take a tasteful approach, and Charlie's outlandish predicament is touching and profound, not ridiculous.

Women, from single gals to cougars, are all scratching their heads and wondering, "When did Zac Efron get so hot?" He used to be the jolly kid singing and dancing to the delight of their daughters; now, he's a handsome leading man that has grown women sheepishly ducking glances at his movie posters. He isn't just another pretty face, though. Efron is a very good actor and carries Charlie with authority, and that opinion has nothing to do with the scenes where he absolutely has to rip his shirt off.

The 180—a Second Opinion: OK, the shooting star zooming across the horizon when a character "passes into the light" is pushing it. Even a class act like Charlie can't get away with something that cheesy.

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