The Last Song

(2010) * 1/2 Pg
108 min. Touchstone Pictures. Director: Julie Anne Robinson. Cast: Miley Cyrus, Liam Hemsworth, Greg Kinnear, Kelly Preston, Bobby Coleman.

/content/films/3822/1.jpgHow do I find thee ridiculous, The Last Song? Let me count the ways... 1) Miley Cyrus plays Ronnie, a surly teen who played Carnegie Hall at age seven, got into Julliard without an audition, and rebels by refusing to play the piano any more. 2) Cyrus' love interest Will—played by her now-boyfriend Liam Hemsworth (quel coincidence, Hollywood conspirators!)—works as a grease monkey, volunteers at an aquarium, and casually busts out Tolstoy quotes. 3) The two bond over a metaphorical nest of sea turtles, which Ronnie desperately needs to save from a raccoon. Will wins Ronnie over with this clincher: "You're not like the other girls."

4) But The Last Song is like the other movies. The rickety plot could easily have been a '50s beach-bunny meets Brylcreemed-beach-boy romance, but modern audiences could recognize this one in a taste test, even without the label. It comes from the mind of romance novelist Nicholas Sparks or, as I like to call it, the Not-So-Random Plot Generator. All of the corny elements are here: the death of a major character (no longer a spoiler when it comes to Sparks), Romeo and Juliet-style obstacles (class strife, again), half-baked infusions of Christianity, spring-loaded secrets, and picture-perfect beachside real estate, the better for long walks on the beach at sunset. It's a feel-good, feel=bad, feel-good formula varied here mostly by the excuses for hunky Hemsworth to show skin (beach volleyball and a mud fight that necessitates sexy hosing off for both leads).

5) One of The Last Song's greatest sins is a criminal waste of Greg Kinnear. Within the limitations put on him by the plot, Kinnear is charming and heartfelt as Ronnie's divorced father Steve. Steve has insisted on having Ronnie and her younger brother, Jonah (plucky Bobby Coleman) stay at his supposedly ramshackle but actually idyllic Savannah, Georgia beach house as a way of making up for lost time. Jonah is overjoyed to spend time with his father (learning the art of stained glass), but Ronnie is a petulant whelp. It takes a lot of wearing down by the old and new men in her life to soften Ronnie and allow her to experience a father's deep love and, with Will, the first blush of romantic love. But when the worm of the plot turns and matters become eye-rollingly familiar, we realize that Kinnear has been wasting his time trying to make something from nothing.

6) Hemsworth holds his own, but Cyrus hasn't worked hard enough to overcome the Disney curse of growing up in a bubble: like others weaned on cable tweener sitcoms, she hasn't lived a normal enough life to register as normal on screen (good thing Hannah Montana was built to play on the crazy life of a celebrity); when she tries to be real, she ends up blandly going through motions. Despite extolling the virtues of love, family, and being true to oneself (yawn), The Last Song proves to be just another lame exercise in yanking tweens' charm bracelets. Maybe if we hadn't been instructed to remember A Walk to Remember, The Last Song wouldn't seem so much like the same old song.

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Aspect ratios: 2.35:1

Number of discs: 2

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 8/17/2010

Distributor: Touchstone Home Entertainment

Disney sends The Last Song home in a Blu-ray + DVD combo pack. The special edition sports a fine hi-def transfer that seems accurately to represent the filmmakers' intentions in color and contrast. Though the image is somewhat variable in black level and detail, that's not unusual, depending on shooting conditions and post-production choices. The source is clean, the textures are well defined, and there's no sign of digital artifacting. Sound comes in the form of a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround mix that can be considered definitive: dialogue is crystal clear, ambient sound effects are robust, and the music is full-bodied.

The special edition includes an audio commentary with director Julie Anne Robinson and co-producer Jennifer Gibgot that gives a customary overview of how the film came together, shooting on location, and working with the cast.

"Alternate Opening Sequence: The Church Fire" (2:55, HD) comes with optional commentary, as do five "Deleted Scenes" (7:09, HD).

"Set Tour with Bobby Coleman" (5:06, HD) finds the chipper star bopping around the set and talking to producer Adam Shankman, Miley Cyrus, Cyrus' security man Warren, makeup department head John R. Bayles, hair department head Patricia Glasser, key craft services provider Reva Grantham, grip Chris "Barefoot" Alled, and video assist man Charles "Chaz" Laughon.

"Making of the Music Video 'When I Look at You' with Miley Cyrus" (4:20, HD) includes behind-the-scenes clips and interview snippets of Cyrus, the music video's director Shankman, Liam Hemsworth, and production designer Nelson Coates.

Last up is the "'When I Look at You' Music Video" (4:16, HD). Okay, there's also an "Easter Egg" (:21, HD) providing an outtake.

The DVD disc includes the feature and the extras, except for the deleted scenes and alternate opening.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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