March 31 2010 12:00 AM

Cyrus is still a girl, not yet an actress in ’The Last Song’

Miley Cyrus fans, don’t say you weren’t warned.

Remember how “The Hannah Montana Movie” took a serious turn in the last halfhour, with Miley suffering an identity crisis? Consider that a warm-up for “The Last Song,” in which Cyrus tackles her first straight dramatic role. Despite the title, she does very little singing in the film (aside from a scene in which she belts out Maroon 5’s “She Will Be Loved” along with the radio); she also doesn’t do much in the way of persuasive emoting, either.

Instead, “Song” demonstrates that, at least at this point in her career, Cyrus won’t be giving Dakota Fanning many sleepless nights: Cyrus is still more of a personality than she is an actress. She can deliver dialogue and generate reactions and she’s got a natural sweetness that works nicely for her in the quieter moments. On the other hand, anger and obstinacy do not come easily to her. She expresses her character’s rage by yelling — in the politest way possible — and that’s a definite stumbling block in a story in which resentment and recriminations are central to the plot.

Author Nicholas Sparks literally crafted “Song” with Cyrus in mind; a generous gesture to be sure, even if it’s sort of like getting a sweater from Uncle Bill that’s three sizes too big. Cyrus plays Ronnie, a troubled New Yorker who’s sent to live with her estranged father (Greg Kinnear) on the Georgia coast. Once a wunderkind at the piano, Ronnie has since become a perpetually cranky teen (and convicted shoplifter) whose mostly black wardrobe mirrors her mood.

“Song” incorporates most of the requisite Sparks ingredients: broken family ties, medical problems, romance, the healing power of the beach, etc. Ronnie is pursued by Will (Liam Hemsworth, blessed with the most assertive eyebrows since Luke Perry), who is not only the hunkiest volleyball player on the sand, but also a devoted volunteer at the local aquarium, a mechanic and — bonus! — the local answer to Richie Rich. That means Ronnie gets a taste of Southern-fried snobbery, courtesy of Will’s haughty mom, in a “Pretty Woman”-ish subplot.

Taken for what it is — a soap opera for the spring-break set — “Song” will probably please Cyrus’ many admirers, even if they roll their eyes at some of the metaphors (Ronnie, whose own family structure is shattered, tries to save a nest of baby sea turtles) or spot its “surprise” plot twist in the first 10 minutes. Kinnear’s wry humor and understatement help to offset Cyrus’ flatness, although even he can’t nullify the overbearing cutesiness of Bobby Coleman as Ronnie’s painfully precocious little brother.

But although “Song” piles on the crises, it’s not much of a tearjerker. Sparks’ busy, pointlessly complicated story is a compendium of stock situations and two-dimensional characters. He seems to be running through a checklist of chickflick clichés (the big shopping scene, domestic abuse, terrible revelations, etc.) and director Julie Ann Robinson doesn’t do much more than try to connect the various dots, while offering numerous glamour shots of the always perfectly styled Cyrus.

In recent interviews, Cyrus has declared she’s going to put music on hold for a while to concentrate on honing her dramatic skills. If that’s true, she might want to follow in the footsteps of Cher, another singer-turnedmovie star: Walk away from the makeup table and head to New York for some hardcore acting classes and stage training.

Granted, it’s not as much fun as having a best-selling author whip up a vehicle for you, but it’s far more beneficial in the long run, especially if you’re truly serious about winning over the skeptics instead of merely preaching to the converted.

For reviews see Cole Smithey’s Movie Week at