Have you heard the one about the two photogenic kids who meet cute in a Southern beach town, overcome differences in class and temperament and fall madly in love only to find that, in this cruel, cruel world, tragedy finds a way of trumping hormones?
Dear God, it's "Dear John," right? Yes. But it's also "The Last Song," the second Nicholas Sparks movie to hit theaters in the past two months, a development only moonstruck teen girls and the facial tissue industry will welcome.
Sparks wrote "The Last Song" at the behest of Miley Cyrus, the Disney Channel star who will soon end her run on the "Hannah Montana" TV series and wants to expand her brand into movies.
For "The Last Song," that means ditching Hannah's pop star wig in favor of a nose stud and confining her singing to a scene where her character warbles along to Maroon 5 on the radio.
"Wow. You can really sing," Cyrus' character is told.
Those who would agree with that statement will find little wrong with "The Last Song," though Cyrus herself has admitted she'll probably be hiring an acting coach after watching the movie.
At present, the 17-year-old Cyrus has an undeniable presence, but her dramatic abilities largely consist of two moves -- scrunching up her face and staring wistfully into the distance.
Cyrus is doing a little of both when we first meet her character Ronnie, a sullen teenager seething at the idea of spending the summer at her father's beachfront Georgia home. Apparently, Ronnie is some kind of musical genius, but hasn't touched the piano since her parents' divorce several years ago.
While dad (Greg Kinnear) busies himself bonding with Ronnie's adorable little brother (Bobby Coleman), Ronnie fends off the wholesome advances of Will (Liam Hemsworth), the local hunk/mechanic/aquarium volunteer/volleyball stud.
Both men soon melt Ronnie's cold, cold heart, and when a bunch of turtle eggs that Ronnie and Will have tended end up hatching and all those baby turtles paddle off into the foamy Atlantic, you think, maybe, just maybe things are going to be OK for these two crazy kids.
But since "The Last Song" is another leg on the never-ending Nicholas Sparks Death Tour, you always sense The Reaper's bony hand circling over the proceedings, waiting to randomly pick off another victim. Sure enough, it's not long before someone's mentioning "medicine" and insisting "I'm fine."
The movie's proximity to "Dear John" makes Sparks' use of tragedy as a device all the more risible, and director Julie Ann Robinson shamelessly milks the situation to such a degree that she'd probably have the Transformers' army of Decepticon robots bawling their sensors out.
Kinnear lends the movie a dignity it doesn't deserve and stands as the only cast member whose dramatic moments aren't propped up by soaring musical cues.
The barrage of songs do come in handy, spelling out every beat of emotion contained in the story. So when Ronnie drives away at the end and the music rises and a singer (it's Miley!) tells us that "there is no guarantee that this life is easy," we know she speaks truth, if only because death never takes a holiday in Sparks Country.
"The Last Song," released by
Motion Picture Association of America rating definitions:
G -- General audiences. All ages admitted.
PG -- Parental guidance suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children.
PG-13 -- Special parental guidance strongly suggested for children under 13. Some material may be inappropriate for young children. R -- Restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
NC-17 -- No one under 17 admitted.