Disney/Buena Vista | 2010 | 107 mins. | Rated PG

The Last Song marks the first time that wildly popular novelist Nicholas Sparks (The Notebook, Dear John) wrote the novel and screenplay concurrently. The film was pitched to Disney as little more than a typical Nicholas Sparks heart tugger, starring Hannah Montana herself, Miley Cyrus.  Cyrus is seventeen now, so it’s easy to understand her desire to  escape the Hannah Montana persona and move on to more mature roles. Unfortunately, even the best actresses (a list Miley doesn’t come anywhere near approaching), would likely have difficulty making something memorable out of Sparks’ strictly paint-by-the-numbers story.

The Last SongSparks’ melodramatic script trots out every mushy cliché fans have come to expect from this kind of film. Cyrus plays a rebellious teen named Ronnie, who’s forced to spend the summer with her younger brother Jonah (Bobby Coleman) and their father (Greg Kinnear) at his beachside home in Georgia. Still angry at him for abandoning the family, Ronnie would rather spend the summer back in New York with mom.  Ronnie is a piano prodigy but she’s given up the instrument in the face of her parents split.

Angry, Ronnie spends her days alternatively pouting, scowling and generally making her father’s life miserable. For that, she is awarded a chance meeting with a hunky blond boy, Will (Liam Hemsworth), who genuinely likes her and also happens to be rich. Despite her new love, the summer is filled with ups and downs. Ronnie faced an arrest for shoplifting, gets some upsetting news about a family health issue and faces disapproval from Will’s parents and friends. Luckily for Ronnie, all these negatives are balanced out by an improved relationship with her father and an adventure protecting sea turtle eggs so they can hatch. In the midst of all this, Ronnie takes up the piano again.

First time feature film director Julie Anne Robinson understands her core audience — diehard Cyrus fans and the parents watching their daughters emulate her — and plays directly to them. Kinnear is his usual dependable self, shifting from parental dismay to support with ease. Hemsworth has a sense of humor to back up his good looks. Coleman, meanwhile, joins a long line of annoying child actors to grace the screen.

As a young Hannah Montana, Miley Cyrus was cute and showed a tween ability to entertain. However, as she begins to make the transition to adulthood, it may be time to admit that her acting chops are incredibly limited. While it’s too early to declare film stardom impossible, The Last Song doesn’t give me much hope. She isn’t exactly grown up but she’s on her way. The problem is, she seems to have only two expressions at her disposal: Pouty and scowly. Maybe it’s the script, but otherwise Cyrus looks perpetually bored. For a long-term movie career, she might want to work on looking interested.

The film’s 2.35:1 theatrical aspect ratio is delivered in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Color is nicely saturated throughout the film, and flesh tones are accurate and seem right for the beach setting of the movie. Sharpness is adequate, but the image doesn’t pop perhaps due to only slightly above average black levels. With the film being so recent, it goes without saying that the image is clean and artifact free.

The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 sound mix is a bit of a disappointment. With its ocean setting to occupy large chunks of the story, the soundtrack as presented is very mediocre with very little use of the rear channels for the ambient sounds of the various locations. True, the pop music standards which adorn the soundtrack are often directed into the fronts and rears for a small sense of immersion, but those are the only times the rears seem to see much action, and the LFE channel is used even less often. Dialogue is nicely recorded and placed properly into the center channel.

The audio commentary is by director Julie Robinson and co-producer Jennifer Gibgot. The two friends chat amiably about the project resulting in a predictable if genial track.

All of the special features are presented in 1080p.

There is an alternate opening sequence for the movie (involving a church fire) which can be played with or without director commentary. It runs for 3 minutes.

There are five deleted scenes which may be played individually or in one 7 ¼-minute grouping. Some are extensions of scenes which are in the movie. There is also commentary with these which may be turned on or off.

Actor Bobby Coleman takes the viewer on a tour of the set visiting with co-producer Adam Shankman, Miley’s security guard (Miley pops in to say hello for a second), and the make-up, hair, craft service, and grips.

“The Making of the Music Video ‘When I look at You’” finds co-producer Adam Shankman directing the music video of Miley’s only song in the movie (sung over the closing credits). He and production designer Nelson Coates discuss the seat-of-their-pants quality of throwing together the music video for Miley with some behind-the-scenes shots of the different set-ups for the song. It runs 4 ½ minutes.

Miley’s music video “When I Look at You” is presented in a 4 ¼-minute featurette.

The second disc in the package is the DVD copy of the movie.

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