Look at that title carefully. The Last Song. If you think you're going to escape Nicolas Sparks' trademark Inevitable Tragedy, well, you don't know Sparks. The author has become the brand name for sun-soaked Southern melodrama, full of first love longings and, oh yeah, the Inevitable Tragedy. It doesn't even matter if the story feels like it needs one; you're going to get one anyway. It's all part of the formula.
The Last Song is not one of Sparks' stronger efforts -- a shaggy, rambling screenplay that doesn't have a narrative so much as it loosely assembles a series of moments that Miley Cyrus can storm away from while saying, "You never told me about (fill in the blank)!!!" She's Ronnie Miller, girl with a troubled past, trying to ride out the summer on Georgia's Tybee Island under the care of her estranged father (the reliably appealing Greg Kinnear). She meets cute blue-blood beach bum Will (Liam Hemsworth), saves sea turtles, and generally sneers at everything and everyone for the first half of the film.
Withering sarcasm is not Cyrus's strong suit as an actress. Once she kisses Will, she does a complete character turn (for no real reason other than, hey, kissing is fun), and is finally allowed to "just be Miley," to paraphrase her hit song. You don't have to be a chameleon-like actor to be a movie star, and Cyrus is definitely at her most appealing when she's playing a variation of her own personality, rather than posturing as the surly brat. She's not fooling anybody. Giggling during a mud fight or rolling around in the surf in a belly shirt while making out? That she can do.