Both Miley Cyrus and the horse she rode in on to make her big post-Hannah Montana movie debut -- The Last Song – are so head-shakingly, wonderfully awful that a tissue-thin sob story which starts generating a couple of mild chortles early on finally gives way to a heap of full-on guffaws.
As written, the heroine of this mirthful monstrosity -- Hallmark greeting card-ready novelist Nicholas Sparks molded the screenplay especially for Cyrus -- is supposed to be a tough, complicated, confused, Tolstoy-reading New Yorker piano prodigy who hasn’t tickled the ivories since the ugly split-up of her Dwell magazine-ready parents (Greg Kinnear, Kelly Preston) yet has somehow been accepted to Julliard/
One big sullen ball of anger, she and her younger brother (Bobby Coleman, acting all the time) get sent to spend a Georgia summer at her dad’s primo beachside “shack” where adolescent emotions boil over. When little Coleman tells Kinnear his mom claims Cyrus’s rage is due to PMS and Kinnear asks if his son even knows what PMS means, the annoying little tyke tosses back, “Of course I do, Dad. I’m not a little kid anymore. It’s the Pissed at Men Syndrome.”
Cyrus looks pissed, all right, especially when first meeting a rich, nice, volleyball stud boyfriend (Liam Hemsworth) who helps protect sea turtle eggs from a hungry raccoon (no, really) and whose stick-up-the-butt parents worry (correctly) that their golden boy might be seriously slumming when he brings her by for their inspection. The supposedly highly literary Cyrus asks of Hemsworth, “Did you go to some nice guy school or something?” which we’re pretty sure isn’t dialogue from Anna Karenina.
Another flashpoint for the touchy-touchy heroine is her relationship with father, whom Kinnear plays all calf-eyed, noble and vague – after all, he may or may not be a musician and he may or may not be making a living restoring stained glass windows and oh, yeah, he also may be an arsonist. What we do know is that he’s a mouthpiece for some choice Sparks claptrap, like: “Love is fragile and we’re not always its best caretakers. We just muddle through and do the best we can and hope this fragile thing survives against all odds.” Although Miley and Kinnear don’t look even vaguely alike, we’re sure that she’s his kid because she too spouts fortune cookie-level philosophies like, “Truth only means something when it’s hard to admit.”
Because it’s a Nicholas Sparks joint, you’ve also got to figure that one of the aforementioned characters is destined to die young but very photogenic. OK, The Last Mile isn’t a cuckoo nuts, off-the-rails bonanza but if you’re up for a little teen idol schadenfreude-a-go-go, there’s big fun to be had here because Cyrus, who should never consider the big screen camera one of her besties, seems to confuse complex emotions with merely pursing her lips, knitting her brows and brooding. Teen rebellion and painful childhood emotional scars and resentments? No prob for Miley, who just flicks her hair and hunches her shoulders. It all ends with hospital bed reconciliations, sobs, tears, picturesque sunsets and newly hatched baby turtles beating the odds and finding their homes in the sea – the kinds of things that seem deeply meaningful to 14-year-old girls.
Maybe Miley will get better on screen. Maybe she’ll actually read Tolstoy. Maybe she’ll wind up starring in a remake of Valley of the Dolls. If every generation gets the teen idols it deserves, then let’s just say that the generations that got actors like the very young Sinatra, Elvis, Hayley Mills and Jodie Foster must have been a whole hell of a whole lot worthier. Cue the attack of the Miley-heads.