Miley Cyrus’ sizable t(w)een audience will surely lend its ears to “The Last Song,” a soapy meller that transitions the young pop star from the Disney Channel to the bigscreen while giving girls what they’d seem to want and nothing more. Shirtless boys, cute animals, a dress-shopping excursion and a good cry all factor into the Nicholas Sparks-adapted tale of Ronnie Miller (Cyrus), a New York City kid forced to spend a summer with her divorced dad (Greg Kinnear) in seaside Georgia. Opening March 31 in a strategic mid-spring-break release, “Song” should sound like “ka-ching” at the B.O.
Reportedly initiated by the star, who wished to emulate the 2002 Sparks-sourced Mandy Moore vehicle “A Walk to Remember,” “The Last Song” is a predictable but not unpleasant bid to reassure young fans — and their moms — that the rapidly maturing Cyrus still holds family values.
Arriving at Dad’s beachfront house with tall black boots and a chip on her shoulder, Ronnie makes fast friends with a questionable young woman named Blaze (Carly Chaikin) and eventually falls in love with a volleyball-playing hunk (Liam Hemsworth). But, thank heavens, she also helps in the restoration of a Baptist church, protects a batch of turtle eggs from a hungry raccoon, and returns to piano playing after years of thinking it silly.
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Following in the footsteps of “Jailhouse Rock,” “Purple Rain” and countless other pop-star vehicles, pic uses the story of a rebellious character’s spiritual conversion to fortify a musician’s fan base. However, only the last song in “The Last Song” is sung by Cyrus; her current chart-climber “When I Look at You” plays over the end credits. The rest of the soundtrack features comparatively harder pop from the likes of Black Rebel Motorcycle Club, the better to characterize Ronnie’s ultimate redemption.
As Steve Miller, aka Dad, an earnest, scruffy Kinnear is the sole beneficiary of the film’s mild laugh lines — at least until his character starts to cough, signaling co-screenwriter Sparks’ umpteenth move into tear-jerking territory. As the boyfriend who turns out to be filthy rich, Hemsworth is just as cute as he needs to be. Cyrus, alas, hasn’t yet learned not to act with her eyebrows and overbite. But she does show off her considerable chops as a pianist and remains reasonably likable throughout.
Aside from an unfortunate scene in which Ronnie is silenced by a kiss (and a pushily romantic soundtrack tune), “The Last Song,” directed by TV vet Julie Anne Robinson, maintains a healthy respect for girls. Louise Frogley’s costume design, including clothes spoiled by mud and a spilt strawberry shake, is perfect. Georgia lensing by John Lindley looks beach-bright and otherwise undistinguished.