The shadow of novelist Nicholas Sparks has loomed over Hollywood ever since the release of  2004's weepy blockbuster The Notebook. This year in particular has seen a plethora of Sparksian films (Dear John, The Last Song, Letters to Juliet) vying to tap into the same romantic vein.

The latest such film, Charlie St. Cloud, stars Zach Efron as a sailing prodigy who loses his younger brother in a horrific car accident and eventually begins to communicate with his brother's ghost. Reviewers have declared it an episodic and sappy melodrama akin, in some respects, to The Sixth Sense. And while the harsh buzz may doom St. Cloud, Efron isn't giving up anytime soon on becoming the leading man in a romance film: he's signed on to play a soldier in The Lucky One. A movie adaptation of a book, you may recall, that was written by Nicholas Sparks. Critics weigh in:

  • A Shamefully Obvious Weeper (Sniffle, Sniffle) concludes The Los Angeles Times film critic Betsy Sharkey. She describes the "unrealized movie" as not"nearly as painful or as emotional as it should be," even though it borrows thematic elements from The Notebook. "The good news is that Efron continues to get better with each film; he just hasn't gotten a role yet that will finally put his acting potential to the test."
  • 'Mawkish Morbidity' Superficially Resembles Nicholas Sparks, but the real comparison here is Twilight: Eclipse, writes A.O. Scott in The New York Times. "You are not, in a movie like this, supposed to think too much," he writes, "[Y]ou are supposed to be transported beyond skepticism on a wave of pure, tacky feeling. Instead, in this case, you drown in sentimental, ghoulish nonsense."
  • It's A Polished, Saccharine Romance Vehicle but unfortunately, the paper thin plot leaves much to be desired, notes Rex Reed at The New York Observer. Efron is more than eager to show off his acting chops, but any emotional resonance dissipates when "the movie coasts along on close-ups of Zac Efron's face in an inexhaustible attempt to prove the camera can capture a great deal more than the reflection of just another pretty face." Eventually, "[t]he camera loses."
  • Stranger Than It Intends To Be and that's partially a result of the "new age fable" from which it was adapted from, scoffs The Globe and Mail's Liam Lacey. The plot of the movie doesn't bother the reviewer as much as Efron's apparent penchant for exposing his torso. Also, "There’s nothing subtle in the way the emotional strings are yanked here: Romantic kisses appear to be set against sunsets of oil painted on velvet; the piano tinkles and orchestra swells to augment every emotional peak." Very Sparksian indeed.
  • It's More Like Caddyshack argues NPR's Mark Jenkins, in one of the more bizarre film comparisons made recently. He explains: "The graveyard [where Efron spends much of his time in the film] is bedeviled not by ghouls but by geese, so [he] — like Bill Murray's groundskeeper before him — is forever attempting new gambits to drive off unwanted animals." Jenkins seems to have lost interest in the film pretty quickly, quipping, "Disney pinup Zac Efron doesn't have enough substance to be a cloud; he's more like a barely perceptible Pacific Northwest drizzle."