For movie reviewers and entertainment writers who make sport of the Melodrama Industrial Complex that is Nicholas Sparks, his book titles alone are target-ready: "Message in a Bottle," "A Walk to Remember," The Notebook," "Nights in Rodanthe," "Dear John" and now, "The Last Song."
In "The Last Song," add to that teen singing sensation Miley Cyrus's chrysalis-like shedding of her Disneyana Hannah Montana persona to emerge as a grumbly troubled teen. There's also weepy-eyed Greg Kinnear as a clueless divorced dad. "The Last Song" is ready-made for the slack-jawed japes of dyspeptic headline writers everywhere.
But, doggone it, if "The Last Song" didn't turn on the waterworks of those in the movie theater audience, including me.
It's as though Sparks has stock in Kimberly-Clark, the company that manufactures Kleenex.
Sparks' stories are surely chick-lit. The movie versions are skewed a bit more toward the chicklets, i.e., teen and pre-teen females.
If movies based on Sparks' stories are a bit sappy, well, life is a bit sappy, too.
The blandly-titled "The Last Song" is the same old song: talented teen in trouble, Ronnie (Cyrus), shunned by peers; broken family, Steve and Kim (Kinnear and Kelly Preston); cute and wise younger brother, Jonah (scene-stealer Bobby Coleman); and hunky young love interest, Will (Australian newcomer Liam Hemsworth), who quotes classic literature (Tolstoy's "Anna Karenina").
Hobbies of fathers play a big role in Sparks' tomes (coin collecting in "Dear John"; stained glass in "The Last Song") and become bonding agents between father and son, metaphors for life lessons and a way to stoke the potboiler.
Sparks' characters typically have secrets that shield mistakes, often made by basically good persons. They create confrontations, gain redemptive understanding and offer forgiveness. It's formulaic, but it's one that gets results in life as well as fiction. And it's often inspirational.
Any storyline, as that in "The Last Song," that has to do with turtles scores automatic points even if the device of sea turtles, aka loggerheads, was used before, notably in the movie, "Loggerheads" (2005).
Cyrus, all adenoidal in speech and pouty of mouth, is actually quite good, creating sympathy for a dislikeable character. Kinnear is whimsical.
Julie Anne Robinson (TV's "Grey's Anatomy," "Weeds") plays it safe in her feature movie directorial debut, with emotion-swelling rock songs, closeups of Cyrus and co-star Hemsworth kissing (fueled by their reported off-screen canoodling) and connect-the-dots scenes and cinematography in the screenplay co-written by Sparks and newcomer Jeff Van Wie.
"The Last Song" is better than it has any right to be. Maybe Sparks is too clever by far.
"The Last Song": MPAA Rated PG (Parental Guidance Suggested. Some material may not be suitable for children) for thematic material, some violence, sensuality and mild language; Genre: Drama; Run time: 1 hr., 47 min.; Distributed by Disney's Touchstone Pictures.
Credit Readers Anonymous: "The Last Song" was filmed in the Savannah, Ga., area, including Tybee Island. The soundtrack has "When I Look At You," sung by Miley Cyrus.
Box Office, April 2: Another week, another 3-D movie. "Clash of the Titans" opened at No. 1, $61.4 million, weekend, $64 million since March 31. "Tyler Perry's Why Did I get Married Too?" opened at No. 2, with $30.1 million. "
3. "How to Train Your Dragon," last week's first-place 3-D movie, $29.2 million, $92.3 million, two weeks; 4. "The Last Song," $16.2 million, weekend, $25.5 million since March 31; 5. "Alice in Wonderland," $8.2 million, $309.7 million, five weeks; 6. "Hot Tub Time Machine," $8 million, $27.8 million, two weeks; 7. "The Bounty Hunter," $6.2 million, $48.9 million, three weeks; 8. "Dairy of a Wimpy Kid," $5.5 million, $46.2 million, three weeks; 9."She's Out of My League," $1.4 million, $28.6 million, four weeks; 10. "Shutter Island," $1.4 million, $123.4 million, seven weeks
Unreel, April 9:
"Date Night" stars Steve Carell and Tina Fey as a New York City married couple whose night on the town goes horribly wrong in a case of mistaken identity. Shawn Levy ("Night at the Museum") directs a cast that includes Mark Wahlberg, Kristen Wiig and James Franco.
"Letters to God" is based on a true story about a boy who, battling cancer, writes letters to God.
Two Popcorn Boxes out of Five Popcorn Boxes