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MOVIE REVIEW: Cyrus goes serious in Sparks' flop 'The Last Song'

Photo by Sam Emerson

Photo by Sam Emerson

The Last Song (PG)

1 out of 4 stars

One of the most micromanaged and pinpoint-marketed entertainers of the last half century, teenager Miley Cyrus has hit a professional crossroads with "The Last Song" and the crossroads have hit back.

With her father Billy Ray steering the ship and some very skittish PR folks at Disney working on her career facelift, Cyrus has attempted the first project that in no way features or acknowledges the existence of her far more famous alter-ego, Hannah Montana.

Love or hate her, you must tip your hat to Cyrus for recognizing that the Hannah phenomenon has probably run its course, and if she's ever going to be taken seriously beyond her rabid teenybopper base, she's going to have to move on. In this context, "The Last Song" can only be described as one of the most overcompensating strategies in entertainment history.

For about 90 percent of the movie, Cyrus' character, Ronnie, pouts, snarls, slings insults, throws tantrums and behaves like a petulant, spoiled-rotten, bad-attitude teen. During the remainder, Ronnie is alternately saccharine-sweet or excruciatingly maudlin and morose. She also only sings once on screen and it is in karaoke style to a song playing on the radio.

In every way possible, Ronnie is the anti-Hannah, and Cyrus' dedicated fans are going to be supremely disappointed, as will most of the adults Disney is trying to hook. Only the superb performance from Bobby Coleman as Ronnie's little brother Jonah and some gorgeous shots of Georgia's Tybee Island save the movie from being a total bust.

Not all of this is Cyrus' fault. All one has to do is take note of who wrote the screenplay and much will be explained. Before he even finished writing the book of the same name, Nicholas Sparks was commissioned by Disney to pen "The Last Song" specifically for Cyrus. She asked that it be something that would be closely in lockstep with one of her favorite Sparks-adapted movies, "A Walk to Remember," and Sparks nailed it.

Let's see — there's the Southern coastal setting, a troubled, across-the-tracks romance and at least one death. It can't be a true Sparks movie without a little emotional teeth-gnashing and the early permanent exit of a principal character.

For reasons explained late in the proceedings which make little sense, Ronnie's father Steve (Greg Kinnear) left his family in New York a couple of years ago and moved to Tybee. He lives mere feet from the ocean in a large, funky, chic home but doesn't appear to have a job. The film opens with Steve's ex-wife Kim (Kelly Preston) dropping Ronnie and Jonah off for the summer and Ronnie shifting into full killjoy mode.

Sulking and skulking around in her faux-Riot Grrrl garb and Army boots, Ronnie is temporarily sidetracked by a troubled homeless girl before spending most of her time with the perfectly chiseled Will (Cyrus' current off-screen Australian-born beau Liam Hemsworth). The rich boy Will plays beach volleyball, works for his dad and volunteers at the local aquarium (with scenes filmed at the Georgia Aquarium). He's as up as Ronnie is down, and despite a few requisite minor roadblocks, there is no doubt of Ronnie and Will's eventual coupling.

If the reaction of the audience at the preview screening is any indicator, "The Last Song" will have a short shelf life. Roughly 200 very excited, largely middle-teen female Cyrus fans — most of them wearing Hannah T-shirts — were beside themselves in anticipation before the lights went down, but before the first half was over, they realized this was not what they had in mind. Giddy giggling led to stone silence, shuffling in the seats and ultimately sniffles and water works.

Bully for Cyrus trying something different but this movie was not the way to go. It was too much of a radical change too soon. The Cyrus brain trust is going to have to meet somewhere in the middle next time. Perhaps a romantic comedy or light drama with a bigger-name supporting cast to help her with the heavy lifting accompanied by a slightly mature, bouncy pop soundtrack.

Anything would be better than this. (Touchstone/Disney)