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Can Miley Cyrus make ‘Last Song’ her opening number?

April 5, 2010 |  3:02 pm
With “The Last Song” performing respectably at the box office this weekend, earning $25.6 million over five days, it’s fair to wonder whether Miley Cyrus isn't entirely delusional in thinking a serious, or at least a commercial, acting career lies ahead of her.

Cyr The tween pin-up has said repeatedly that over the coming years she wants to eschew singing in favor of acting. ("I'm really good at comedy," she recently told my colleague Amy Kaufman.) Producers, their hearts a-twitter at the fan following Cyrus comes with (if not exactly her Angela Lansbury-esque acting skills) have done their part; in recent months, they’ve attached Cyrus to projects ranging from an action-comedy called “Family Bond” to a remake of the Sarah Jessica Parker '80s dance movie “Girls Just Want to Have Fun.”

“Miley is coming of age as an actress, and you’re seeing her fans follow her even when she’s doing something that has nothing to do with 'Hanna Montana,' ” Disney executive Chuck Viane told us ahead of "The Last Song's” opening.

Of course, if you're trying to make this kind of transition, talent helps too. Like that of other emerging tween stars, Cyrus’ acting isn’t without promise, but it’s not without shortcomings either. In “The Last Song,” she’s perfectly fine playing to type as a pouty, lovelorn teenager, but runs into trouble when she’s trying something more  substantial.

Cyrus may also want to keep in mind that the path has been rocky for the many Disney Channel stars who’ve tried to walk it before. Zac Efron (and before him, in a slightly different way, Shia LaBeouf) parlayed their exposure and fan base into a significant film career. But most of the others to come from the network’s crop of shows and movies this past decade have thus far failed -- personalities like Vanessa Hudgens, Hilary Duff and Ashley Tisdale (whose careers have given us the combined cinematic output of “Bandslam,” “Material Girls” and “Aliens in the Attic”).

There’s an issue for Disney Channel stars trying to make the jump to movies, even frilly ones. The network's shows give their actors plenty of exposure, but they don’t exactly showcase their best acting. Even good acting gets lost there.

So it’s almost impossible for anyone casting these movies to know what an actor can or can’t do.  And it may be unreasonable for the rest of us to expect that because someone is a star there they’ll be a star anywhere else.

With this weekend's box office performance, Cyrus will get at least one or two more cracks at big film roles; look for at least one of the 17-year-old's development projects to gain some new elements and momentum. But it's a long road from life as a stadium pop star to life as a film celebrity. Cyrus could well wind up being good at comedy. Let's just hope it's not the unintentional kind.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Photo: Miley Cyrus at "The Last Song" premiere. Credit: Chris Pizzello / Associated Press