Friday, April 8, 2011

Soul Surfer

Based on the experiences of Bethany Hamilton (played here by AnnaSophia Robb), Soul Surfer tells the story of a young girl who lost her arm to a shark attack which threatened to end a promising amateur surfing career.

The main focus of the film is Bethany's struggle, and that of her family and friends, to come to grips with with what has happened and her attempt to move forward. It's a little too Hallmark Hall of Fame for my tastes, and more than a little formulaic, but there's definitely an audience for this type of movie.

The young protagonist faces hardship, learns something new about herself and the world, has her faith tested and then renewed, and eventually comes out stronger for the experience. Sound familiar? That's because it is.

Helen Hunt and Dennis Quaid star as Bethany's parents, and both do well to present the emotion called for in each scene, even if at times the dialogue lets them down. The movie does get the feel of the entire family, including Bethany's best friend (Lorraine Nicholson) and her father (Kevin Sorbo), just right.

The only time the film feels forced is with its hamfisted religious message. I don't mind that the film is centered around faith or religion. What I do mind is that it in these scenes the message is presented with all the subtlety of a punch to the groin.

Carrie Underwood has a small role as Bethany's youth counselor and all I can say is it's a good thing she has a lucrative career as a singer. In a film filled with average to good performances this is the one that nearly sinks the enterprise. This is as bad a performance by a first-time actor in her big screen debut as any I can remember since Cindy Crawford in Fair Game.

It's really up to Robb to carry the film, and thankfully she's up to the challenge. The story demands for the character to take us with her through a range of emotion, and for the most part Robb is able to do just that. We'll have to wait and see if this can be the breakthough role for her that Blue Crush was for Kate Bosworth.

The film feels more than a little like a TV movie of the week, and I could certainly have done with a little more surfing and a little less preaching. It also looks a little cheaper than I'd like in places (some of the closeups for the surfing scenes reminded me of old Annette Funicello/Frankie Avalon beach movies). However, its heart is in the right place and the surfing sequences are fairly well executed (some of surfing is quite impressive).

Soul Surfer has more than its share of flaws. It's certainly not for everyone, and I'd only give it the slightest of recommendations, and then only for those who don't mind getting preached at as well as entertained over the course of the movie's 106-minute running time. Me? I'll take Blue Crush over this one any day.

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