Plenty of strategizing, but not an ounce of sincerity, went into "The Last Song," a two-hour marketing plan masquerading as a movie. In this romantic weeper, Miley Cyrus gets to dip a toe into maturity, hunky newcomer Liam Hemsworth gets some literal exposure and novelist Nicholas Sparks ("Nights in Rodanthe") gets to write his first screenplay. It must have been pitched as a win-win for everyone, including for viewers who tend to melt at the sight of animals, children and sunsets.
It begins as a calculated preteen fantasy in which Veronica "Ronnie" Miller (Cyrus), a sullen New York City high schooler, arrives in a small Georgia beach town to live with her father, Steve (Greg Kinnear, a professional surrounded by newbies). Ronnie poses as the anti-bikini babe, skulking around in a black hoodie, but soon she'll be pursued by the local torso, Will Blakelee (Hemsworth).
Now here comes the calculated parental fantasy. Ronnie is not only a gifted pianist, she secretly holds a ticket to Juilliard. Likewise, Will is not only a clean-cut volleyball player and dirty-faced car mechanic who quotes Tolstoy and volunteers as a turtle-egg rescuer, he is also a wealthy blue blood with guaranteed admission to Vanderbilt (he'd prefer Columbia).
From its baldly aspirational notions to its contrived scenes of love and loss (the paint-by-numbers direction is by Julie Anne Robinson), "The Last Song" shows an almost willful lack of imagination. Clearly, nobody in the conference room cared.
PLOT A teenage girl experiences a summer of love and loss.
PLAYING AT Area theaters
BOTTOM LINE A contrived and calculated tearjerker, with only Kinnear providing a heartfelt moment or two.
BY DAVID GERMAIN, The Associated Press
Singing was the last thing on Miley Cyrus' mind in "The Last Song." Other than a brief sing-along to a tune on a car radio, her character doesn't do any crooning, something Cyrus deliberately avoided with her first lead in a live-action film that doesn't feature musical alter-ego Hannah Montana.
"I didn't want to sing in the film. We sang in the car that once, but that doesn't really count. I didn't want to do a performance thing," said Cyrus, who also contributes two songs to the soundtrack but figures she wants to keep singing and acting separate from now on.
"I never say I'm not going to do anything. Then if I end up doing it, I'm going to get a lot of crap. . . . And I don't have time for that drama and people freaking out. But most likely, I'd like to stay away from music in films and do a little something less obvious."
HER FUTURE Music, in general, is going on hold for Cyrus, who said an upcoming album will be her last for at least a few years, because she wants to concentrate on big-screen roles.
Cyrus, 17, has a handful of episodes left to shoot in the final season of "Hannah Montana," the Disney Channel series that made her a star. She has remained in the Disney stable for a "Hannah Montana" concert movie and feature film and led the voice cast with John Travolta in the studio's animated hit "Bolt."
BEYOND 'HANNAH' "The Last Song," also from Disney, is a calculated effort by teen idol Cyrus to graduate into more grown-up territory and bring her fans along without alienating them as she moves beyond Hannah's happy world.
Cyrus' mother, Tish Cyrus, was the executive producer on "The Last Song." They "are very astute people and knew precisely what would be the right next movie for Miley," said Julie Anne Robinson, who directed "The Last Song."