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Zac Efron's (halting) reinvention

August 2, 2010 | 11:38 am

Zac There's a piquant irony in Zac Efron backing out of "Footloose" because he didn't want to be the "High School Musical" guy -- and then having the movie he chose to do draw mainly from the "High School Musical" set.

Efron's soapy "Charlie St. Cloud" grossed just $12.1 million this weekend, largely because of goodwill from tweens and teens who like Efron from his Troy Bolton days, according to box-office experts. Showing less goodwill were critics, who collectively gave the tearjerky story of a lovelorn man conjuring up memories of his late brother a mere 24% on Rotten Tomatoes, and used such descriptors as "unintentionally hilarious" (the New York Post, Lou Lumenick).

But in an interview with my colleague Amy Kaufman, Efron said he felt confident that acting in a serious drama would help him move into the next phase of his career.

"I was looking at 'Footloose' and how great it would be, and every person you talk to is like, 'That's a great move. That's exactly what we would expect from you,' " he said, pouring himself some tea last month. "And after you hear that a few times, you kind of just go, 'I have to look myself in the face.' I wanted to slow down and do something challenging for the right reasons — not for the money or notoriety or for more fame or to be the king of genre."

Compared to singing and dancing through homeroom, the movie represents an evolution, but only the way going from an amoeba to a paramecium might be considered an evolution.

The shaky reviews might suggest Efron should stick with the tween roles as long as he can eke them out. But it's clear he wants more, and it's also clear he has at least a little more talent than this (it was even clear in "17 Again"). And yet he continues with the maudlin teen fare, a point underscored last week when it was revealed he was attached to "The Lucky One," the latest Nicholas Sparks Kleenex-puller.  While superficially a more dramatic role, the project smells of the same saturated schmaltz of "High School Musical," only in non-singing form.

The simple answer to this conundrum -- assuming he wants to solve it -- is for Efron to choose better material, though of course that presumes it's there to be chosen. "St. Cloud" came about because it was the most adult option in a sea of kiddie choices. Those options may be expanding a little for Efron now, especially as he gets his production company going and studio Warner Bros. redoubles its efforts to keep him happy. The studio recently optioned remake rights to the Swedish hit "Snabba Cash," a movie about an ingénue drug dealer that's as much character piece as action thriller. So he at least should have a few more choices over the coming years.

There's a silver lining in the failure of "Charlie St. Cloud";  you could look at the results and infer that audiences don't want to see Efron as a vulnerable heartthrob. It's an open question, though, whether we want to see him as something else.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Zac Efron. Credit: Francine Orr / Los Angeles Times.

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Comments () | Archives (7)

The comments to this entry are closed.

I think what all those "assessments" leave out of consideration is the fact that this movie just looked bad. Nobody would have opened it to good numbers. And those OW numbers aren't even that bad; with the exception of "Dear John" romantic dramas typically all open in teens.

The conclusion should be that he needs to pick better movies, not that audiences don't want to see him in anything else. That's just silly.

he was an idiot for leaving footloose . his new movie was awful. i went back to get my money back.

You should have included Richard Linklater's "Me and Orson Welles" in this piece. Zac was very good and more people should have seen the film.

Cool hair.

Well, I just don't get it. Why didn't CSC do better at the box office? I went to a 1030 show on a Sunday morning, and I thought that I'd be alone, but there were lots of people there. And it was a very diverse audience. Older, gray haired couples, 20-something couples, 30-something couples, teen girls, moms with younger daughters, single men, single women, black and white. There was also a pretty diverse audience when I went on Friday. The theater certainly was not full of tweens and teens. It seems that the movie is getting mediocre reviews, but even in those, Zac's performance is getting good reviews. Personally, I loved the book and, although I would have done some things differently on film, I thought that it did follow the book fairly well. I do agree with Alex. Zac needs to pick better projects.

I agree that "Orson and Me" along with "17 Again" were good moves for Zac.

Hey, you're being a bit tough on the guy. Go ask Sly or Costner or Gibson why their last films suck big time. And whether they made good choices.

Geez! You critics.

The transition difficulty of Zac Efron is common to every child/teen star since Shirley Temple: they're beloved by children and tweens and ignored by an adult audience.

Recently teens age stars like Zac Efron need to realize that high school is over and put aside their egos (and enabling handlers) and get supporting roles in projects with established big screen stars. The idea that Warner Bros. should keep Mr. Efron "happy" is absurd. He needs to prove himself beyond the puberty set.

Mr. Efron resembles Rob Lowe in looks, and his career may as well resemble that of Mr. Lowe.


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