Thursday, April 1, 2010

"Last Song" less pushy than last Sparks weeper

The Last Song (2010) 
107 min., rated PG.
Grade: C +

"The Last Song" is the latest prepackaged summertime romance from indefatigable sapmeister Nicholas Sparks. In hopes of branching out from her Hannah Montana persona, Disney Channel superstar Miley Cyrus plays Ronnie, a snappish, headstrong teenager. She and her kid brother are shipped off to the Georgia shore to stay with divorced Dad (Greg Kinnear) at his beach house. Ronnie is a brooding type but she's doesn't drink (Cyrus has got to keep her role-model image!), and tries giving up her piano-playing talents and her chance to study at Julliard. In a summer she'll never forget, she finds love with a shirtless volleyball player and part-time aquarium worker named Will (Liam Hemsworth). 

As a tailor-made vehicle for Cyrus, the young smoky-voiced singer-turned-actress shows she's more Britney Spears than Jennifer Lopez, not yet a movie star but has a natural presence and of course what would this be without some scenes to hear her sing (“Wow, you can really sing,” sweet-talks Will). Cyrus does a lot of pouting, snarling, and huffing at first, but then reduces the defensive attitude and eases into her first “grown-up” role with maturity. Kinnear is touching as the patient dad, Hemsworth fulfills the charming hunk role, Bobby Coleman is likably precocious as Ronnie's brother Jonah, and the turtles are cute. 

First-time director Julie Anne Robinson earnestly keeps the eye-rolling to a minimum and reigns in the material from being overly maudlin, maybe because author Sparks himself actually co-wrote the screenplay. "The Notebook" still remains the best adaptation of Sparks' works, but "The Last Song" isn't as pushy in its heartstring-yanking for this sort of sudsy melodrama (hey "Dear John"!). With the summer-loving of "Grease," minus everyone crooning merrily, and a third-act plot development drawn from "Beaches" and an obvious arson subplot mystery, Sparks' sixth screen version is still easier to sit through. 

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