Friday, November 18, 2011

Soul Surfer

Directed by Sean McNamara.
2011. Rated PG, 106 minutes.
AnnaSophia Robb
Dennis Quaid
Helen Hunt
Kevin Sarbo
Lorraine Nicholson
Carrie Underwood
Ross Thomas
Craig T. Nelson
Chris Brocha
Sonya Balmores

Teenager Bethany Hamilton (Robb) is already a championship surfer with a bright future. While taking a break during a training session, she is attacked by a shark and loses her left arm. A few awkward days after leaving the hospital Bethany decides not only does she want to surf again but she wants to do so competitively. She faces plenty of hurdles and of course does lots of soul searching on her journey back into the surfing world. Yes, this is based on a true story in case you somehow missed it when it was a major news story a few years back.

Make no mistake, this is a story of salvation through and through. What sets this apart from any others is the person being redeemed is already a thoroughly good person. What she must overcome are the seeds of doubt that have been sewn by a most unfortunate event. Through her tears, and possibly yours, she wonders aloud how any of this could be part of God’s plan. She has a few temper tantrums and revelations. All the while, we closely follow the template of so many sports movies. The only question is whether or not our heroine will win the big game.

As Bethany, Anna Sophia Robb does a very nice job. This becomes especially clear when you realize that she does indeed have two arms but had to only use one for the majority of the movie. The rest of our cast is adequate. Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Kevin Sorbo and Craig T. Nelson all wear concerned or upset visages whenever appropriate. Even Carrie Underwood is only asked to do just enough to not embarrass herself and she obliges. The one person we could use more of is Malina (Balmores), our makeshift villain. Beating Bethany seems to be her life’s mission. Nothing changes after Bethany has lost a limb. We get a few brief scenes of her with a sour look on her face as she barks at her nemesis. Since this is a wholesome Christian film, you won’t be surprised how this particular subplot ends. Still, it would’ve been nice to get to know her a little more and develop her more as a person with an axe to grind than just a caricature that we’ve seen a thousand times before.

If there is a serious flaw in Soul Surfer it’s that things come too easy. Each obstacle Bethany faces merely seems like a low hurdle we know she’ll clear with ease. Part of this stems from her. Her faith is briefly in doubt, her nobility is not. Don’t get me wrong. It’s wonderful that she’s apparently a terrific person. However, this makes the story we’re told less than compelling. It doesn’t help that the movie quickly sidesteps any weighty issues that pop up such as what happens with the boy that obviously likes her. How does she deal with this? Do the two of them ever talk about what happened to her? How do his friends treat him when they figure out who he’s attracted to? I could go on.

Nevertheless, SS does what it set out to. It’s a full-blown inspirational “triumph of the human spirit” type of flick. The real tale is so ready-made for exactly the treatment it receives here the filmmakers couldn’t mess it up. Some of you will cry. Some of you will cry a lot. The rest of us might find it cliché and predictable. The movie is okay with any of those.

MY SCORE: 6/10

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