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And Then You Die: Nicholas Sparks rolls out his dance-cry-die formula once again with The Last Song 

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I went to see this movie with my mother-in-law. Her main complaint was that she had to watch her favorite actor, Greg Kinnear, die.

"If it wasn't Greg Kinnear who died, it wouldn't be so sad," she explained.

I have to agree - there are many other less-talented actors who I wouldn't have minded watching succumb to cancer on a windswept Georgia beach in the specially formulated Nicholas Sparks copyrighted "death montage," in which Kinnear leans heavily on his 16-year-old daughter as he climbs the stairs to his house, a dark-eye-circled Kinnear sitting in a deckchair with a plaid blanket over his knees... and so on.

The 16-year-old daughter is Miley Cyrus, and it really is a sorry state of affairs when I can say the director didn't give her enough to do. She's rather good as the grouchy, grungy Ronnie, who is tainted by her parents' divorce in all the most clichéd ways. Ronnie is feisty, quick-witted and has a nice wardrobe until a big, blond, rich jock comes along to suck all that personality right out of her with one long kiss. This alt-Miley Cyrus is an intriguing possibility - a persona she should consider in a couple of years down the line, that is, if she can avoid the Ashlee Simpson trap.

Here, Miley makes a solid step into acting. We only get to hear her sing once, and that's along with a Maroon 5 song. As a veteran Miley Cyrus-movie reviewer, I have previously remarked that she leads a life dictated by middle aged-men. In The Last Song she sits on the see-saw with Greg Kinnear.

On one end, we have emotional restraint, comic subtlety and the misplaced goodwill of an actor who must have hundreds of better scripts coming his way each day. This is an actor who writer Nicolas Sparks sees fit to smite as is his casual, clumsy wont. On the other end, we have a young performer who has to keep herself family-friendly when she would be better off getting mixed up with Kids co-writer Harmony Korine.

I sometimes imagine Sparks in his study, yellow Post-it notes tacked to his desk with the words "love," "death," "separation" and "reconciliation" dutifully scrawled down as he goes about the business of creating his next best-seller. To him, love and death are not real, but only sub-headings within the chapters of a beginner's guide to screenwriting.

The meta-narrative here is that as Ronnie learns piano from her father, we can't help but recall that Miley Cyrus has a very public "relationship" with her country-singing dad Billy Ray. Unfortunately, as Ronnie becomes closer to her father, she finds a number of moments in which it is appropriate to say "daddy." At those times, two images simultaneously pop into the mind - the soft-focus sexy Vanity Fair photo shoot she did with Billy Ray, and the wet T-shirt pictures she took on her cell phone for her boyfriend.

I hope that if Nicholas Sparks dies of some horrible terminal illness a director will film his every stumble, his last pancake breakfast and blithely stamp a soft-rock soundtrack on this, edit it into incomprehensible bits and post it on YouTube.

The Last Song

Starring Miley Cyrus, Greg Kinnear, Bobby Coleman. Directed by Julie Anne Robinson. Rated PG


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