Rated PG for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language, 107 minutes
Maudlin, sappy "The Last Song" hits the wrong notes
I'm not a proponent for unsupervised children, but attention parents: the new Miley Cyrus film "The Last Song" is the perfect opportunity to drop your kids off at the theater and do something constructive. "The Last Song" is a mushy, strictly paint-by-numbers, connect-the-dots adaptation of another Nicholas Sparks book that strikes too many icky, false notes. While Miley is likable as ever and there are a couple of affecting scenes, this one oozes sappiness from the first frame.
Veronica "Ronnie" Miller (Cyrus) is a rebellious young teen freshly out of high school. She and her brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) are sent by their mother (Kelly Preston) to live with their father (Greg Kinnear) in a small Georgia beach town. After her parents ugly divorce years ago, Ronnie, a piano prodigy since the age of 5, abruptly quit playing the piano, in spite of continued interest by Juilliard. Initially Ronnie hates everything about her new surroundings, but things change when a rich, dreamboat boy named Will (Liam Hemsworth, Miley's real-life current boyfriend) shows an interest in her. However, Ronnie's life is about to dramatically change that will force her to grow up.
"The Last Song" is a slipshod, cornball drama geared directly to the younger set. You might expect this coming from Nicholas Sparks, of "The Notebook" and the recent "Dear John" who writes the screenplay, adapting his own novel. Sparks' novels all have similar themes of love and death, and "The Last Song" is no different from his other novels. But the predictable, silly story and cardboard characters won't make a difference to the legions of Miley's fans, especially since the hunky Australian actor Hemsworth is her real-life beau (they started dating after filming the movie).
Never mind that Miley, in her first "serious," dramatic and non-singing role, has rather limited (i.e. no) acting abilities and she's really just playing another version of Hannah Montana without the wig. Ditto for eye candy Hemsworth, a laughingly bad actor incapable of displaying any emotion (his one very forced attempt reminds of Channing Tatum). All of which makes the cutesy, cliched romance so difficult to watch (including a mud fight and a bit about some sea turtles).
"The Last Song" does feature Kinnear, a charming, capable actor who comes off like Orson Welles compared to Miley and Hemsworth, in a supporting role that's designed to give the film a smidgen of credibility. Also good is the young Bobby Coleman ("Martian Child") as Ronnie's little brother, who has the movie's most touching scene, one that will have you reaching for some tissues.
The movie has the same outline as any of Sparks' stories: people laugh, cry, fall in love and die. Add Miley in the mix and you have a hit, critic-proof movie on your hands. Just know that for a movie about making beautiful music, "The Last Song's" same off-key notes only produce a big cheeseball. You've been warned.