A surly Miley grows up at 'Last'

"The Last Song" is a chance to see Miley Cyrus fresh off her Best Actress award.

Before we get a note from Sandra Bullock's publicist (who has plenty of other things to keep her busy), let's specify that Cyrus' award is a Kids' Choice, voted by viewers of Nickelodeon in recognition of her work in "The Hannah Montana Movie."

In "Song," she attempts something more grown-up, playing a city girl forced to spend a summer with her estranged dad (Greg Kinnear) at a beach in South Carolina.

Cyrus plays Ronnie, a teen with a guy's name and a tough exterior - Cyrus borrows some attitude and eyeliner from early '90s Angelina Jolie, and exudes some of Jolie's withering contempt for everything.

Ronnie makes a great show of hating her dad and just about everything about the backward little town, where she is forced to endure such horrors as gentlemanly interest from a tall, blond, handsome volleyball player (Aussie hunk Liam Hemsworth) who wants to date her.

Eventually, even the surly Ronnie, a talented pianist who's turned down a scholarship from Julliard out of sheer spite, cannot put forth a reason that she should not show a greater interest in volleyball, and a summer romance blossoms.

Sort of. "The Last Song" is penned by Nicholas Sparks ("Dear John"), whose approach to drama comprises three elements - Thanatos, Eros and No-Doz. The young lovers stroll the dunes, make dewy-eyed declarations of love as the evening sun glitters on the bay - yawn - and then somebody gets really sick. Poor Ronnie, it turns out, is spending her summer Where the Boys and the People with Terminal Illnesses Are.

The role requires Cyrus to spend the first half of the movie glaring, the second half crying. If acting were weeping, she'd be well on her way to a robust screen career. Cyrus, though, has a tougher time with subtle material, and her face, with its strange angles, is sometimes hard to read.

She's not helped much by Sparks' tear-jerking, baffling script, which contrives increasingly exasperating ways to keep Ronnie angry at her saintly boyfriend. Character motivations defy credibility, the same flaw that eventually wrecked "Dear John" and the contributions of Amanda Seyfried, about as good a young actress as there is.

Sparks said that he wrote the screenplay with Cyrus in mind. With friends like that . . .


The Last Song

Directed by Julie Anne Robinson. With Nick Lashaway, Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, Carly Chaikin, Hallock Beals, Kate Vernon, Nick Searcy, Bobby Coleman, Liam Hemsworth, Kelly Preston. Distributed by Walt Disney Studios.

Parent's guide: PG (for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language).