I may come to regret this next statement, but I like Shia LaBeouf. It’s this reason alone that I still entertain the idea of seeing a Transformers movie, because there’s just something about him that connects with you, even when the rest of the film can’t rise to meet him. Such is unfortunately the case with Charlie Countryman, an odd film that looks good, but has precious little to say.
Charlie Countryman (Shia LaBeouf) is having a rough time of it. He has just watched his mother die in the hospital and returns home to find that his girlfriend (played in a brief scene by the great Aubrey Plaza) has also moved on to greener pastures. But Charlie doesn’t get upset for too long because he’s on his way to Bucharest, not to be confused with Budapest, where everyone thinks he should go instead because Hungary is waaaaay more chill than Romania. But on this point his mother’s apparition is quite clear. He is to go to Bucharest. On the plane he chats up the guy next to him who is returning to his homeland after visiting Wrigley Field to see the Cubs play. “Why the Cubs?” Charlie asks, “They’re a pretty bad team.” The man replies with an analogy that the Cubs’ inability to win another World Series despite fighting for it is akin to the Romanian people’s own struggles with dictators and corruption. Everyone loves an underdog.
The plot of Charlie Countryman is built up completely on these chance encounters which makes the film a bit of a loose jumble of random events held together by Charlie’s hallucinations. As it happens, that guy on the plane has a daughter, Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) that Charlie becomes infatuated with and decides they are meant to be together. Only problem is, she is the estranged wife of a crime lord in the Romanian underground. You get where this is going. Between learning about Gabi and her family and their troubled past, and running from gangsters, Charlie also “befriends” Brits Luc (James Buckley) and Karl (Rupert Grint) at a youth hostel. Their sole purpose in this film besides keeping Charlie’s hallucinations well lubricated with drugs, is to essentially be bargaining chips to torture when the bad guys are looking for information. Trouble is, the two are so useless as characters to the audience that their lives are never really cared about by anyone.
If Charlie is meant to be the underdog we root for in this story than all the more power to LeBeouf who tries very convincingly to make us care about how all this pans out. But without a clear focus from the get go, the audience isn’t invested enough in Charlie’s adventure to feel that the stakes are high, and there’s something to loose. An appealing visual palette, Moby’s hypnotic score handmade for chase scenes, and LaBeouf’s dedication are all that make this film watchable.
Charlie Countryman opens today in Philly area theaters.