Zac Efron (“17 Again,” “Hairspray”) is growing up. Shedding his teen “heart-throb” image, Efron’s latest film is a romantic drama with spiritual overtones, and a choice–choose life or choose death.

Based on an acclaimed novel, “Charlie St. Cloud” is the story of a small-town hero who’s destined for greatness. Skilled at a water sport that involves sailing at very high speeds, St. Cloud, is about to graduate from high school and is looking forward to a very promising future.

Single mom played by Kim Basinger relies on Charlie to baby-sit his younger brother Sam (newcomer Charlie Tahan). But Charlie, aching to go to a high school graduation party, agrees to take Sam to a friend’s home.

Then tragedy strikes. The two are involved in a car accident, and when it looks as if they are about to die, the brothers reach out to one another. In that moment, Charlie swears to Sam that he will never leave him. But abruptly, Charlie is revived by the intervention of determined paramedic Florio Ferrente played by Ray Liotta (“Goodfellas,” “Date Night”). Sam, tragically, could not be saved. Charlie is inconsolable.

Endeavoring to keep his promise to his younger brother, Charlie gives up his scholarship to Stanford and opts to stay in his sleepy Pacific Northwest hometown working as a graveyard attendant, and is teased about being just a little ‘nutty.’

One interesting thing about this movie is the multiracial cast. I found it interesting to see so many Black characters entwined in the story. They star in roles from extras to Charlie’s arch-enemy always ready with a nasty remark–Connors, played by Matt Ward. It was fun to see this character, who was so a part of this sea-faring town–something you don’t often see in films, when it comes to Black characters living in this area of the country.

Alistair Wooley played by Augustus Prew is another interesting character. He is Charlie’s good friend and confidant. It can be said that Prew’s character is the comic relief in an otherwise somber, dramatic, and sometimes other worldly film. He breaks the tension with his ‘cockney’ accent and odd way of looking at life. Both he and Ward are short on film and television credits, but long on talent. “Charlie St. Cloud” takes a definite turn for the mystical, when Charlie survives the accident and Ray Liotta’s character tries to convince him that life has more in store for him, but the young hero doesn’t want to leave his brother.

For the five years after the accident, Charlie remains content playing catch with his dead brother every evening at sundown, but then love steps in.

Charlie doesn’t have much time for romance, but when he sets eyes on an old classmate, Tess Carroll played by Amanda Crew (“The Haunting in Connecticut”), things begin to happen.

He is torn between honoring the promise he made years earlier and moving forward with newfound love. Like Charlie, Tess has a passion for sailing, but unlike him, she has chased her dreams and will soon embark on an ambitious solo voyage around the world as the youngest skipper to ever compete in this harrowing journey.

Headstrong and determined, Tess will stop at nothing to achieve her dream. But for her too, love came unexpected and so did something else.

Is it a twist of fate that has brought her into his life now, when she only has a week until she leaves? Just as Sam helps Charlie find the courage to let go of the past for good and pursue Tess, he discovers the soul most worth saving is his own.

“Charlie St. Cloud” is in theaters now.

Gail can be reached at gail@hollywoodbychoice.com.