*** (out of four)
Any movie that hinges on the secret contents of a videotape intentionally mislabeled as “Cubbies win World Series—1995” has a sick, dark sense of humor.
In the unexpectedly funny, consistently engrossing “Charlie Countryman,” Charlie (Shia LaBeouf) leaves Chicago after his mother (Melissa Leo) passes away and, in a vision, tells her son to go to Bucharest, Romania. Detached from his ex (Aubrey Plaza, in a single scene) and apparently not working, Charlie obliges, though maybe he’s just subconsciously thinking of the problems LaBeouf had in Chicago in the “Transformers” franchise and in real life and favors a change of scenery.
Soon the guy next to him on the plane dies and also speaks to Charlie from beyond the grave. The American makes it to Romania, where he’s Tasered and falling for his deceased seatmate’s daughter Gabi (Evan Rachel Wood) while looking over his shoulder for her very clearly dangerous husband (Mads Mikkelsen of “Hannibal”). If that’s not enough of a spicy “Run, Shia, Run” international adventure, Charlie also bonds with his roommates at a hostel. One bunkmate, played by Rupert “Ron Weasley” Grint, wants to be a porn star named “Boris Pecker” and gets into a pickle after taking no fewer than five Romanian Viagra at once.
Perhaps it’s not surprising that “Charlie Countryman” comes from a co-writer of “Project X,” another film whose experiential flavor and anything-can-happen energy were underappreciated by people shaking their fists at all the bad behavior. “Charlie” at times feels aimless, with a few indulgences (like depicting a soul fairy flying out of a body) registering as distracting instead of useful to the story. We also don’t learn enough about Charlie before his trip to see how it changes him.
Yet the right word-of-mouth could make this an underground hit. The film’s loose approach and bizarre developments fit Charlie’s feeling of being lost and looking for buoys at a transitional time. I love how both Charlie and Gabi, who tells him, “If you find me tomorrow, I will kiss you” in a language he doesn’t speak, consciously work to make sure their last memories of their lost parents are happy. Few explorations of the grieving process involve an Ecstasy-driven fantasy of a club full of naked women or a moving eye at the bottom of a urinal, but don’t knock it until you’ve tried it.
The movie, I mean. Not Ecstasy.
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