A surfer has her arm eaten off by a shark — no, really! — and must struggle to regain her physical and spiritual strength in Soul Surfer, an underdog sports movie with a Christian faith message.
Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) grew up in the water — surfing off the coast of Hawaii with her brothers and her surfer parents, Tom (Dennis Quaid) and Cheri (Helen Hunt). She loves the sport and she has a talent for it — she and her friend Alana (Lorraine Nicholson) are so good that they’re homeschooled so they can spend peak surfing hours on the water and preparing for their future of sponsorships and competitions. But then one morning while out on the water chomp, along comes a not-terribly-convincing special-effects version of a shark and Bethany’s arm is bitten off.
Thanks to the quick thinking of Alana’s dad (Kevin Sorbo), Bethany survives. And thanks to the plucky spirit of her family, she is almost immediately determined to get back on her surfboard and continue to compete. With practice, she’s able to get back on her board. But the first competition isn’t easy and her will starts to falter. She considers giving up — but then a trip to tsunami-ravaged Thailand (I think), with her church’s youth group and its spirit-bolstering leader (Carrie Underwood), makes her appreciate the things she has and renews her faith in God and herself.
Soul Surfer isn’t a particularly electrifying surfer movie or faith movie but it also isn’t a bad version of either. Robb manages to make Bethany as real a person as possible under the circumstances — she gets frustrated and angry and expresses the kind of confusion you’d expect from a person in her situation. Quaid and Hunt make her parents seem equally genuine — they don’t always have all the answers and the movie gives them room to have their own reactions to the shark attack as well as the reaction they have with Bethany.
What Soul Surfer lacks is a reason to see it for those who aren’t movie critics or already going with their church group. While the performances are solid, they aren’t so extraordinary as to require, say, Helen Hunt fans to take a special trip to the theater. And the story, which progresses exactly as you’d expect, doesn’t offer much in the way of emotional depth or surfing details. C
Rated PG for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material. Directed by Sean McNamara and written by Sean MacNamara, Deborah Schwartz, Douglas Schwartz, Michael Berk, Matt Allen, Caleb Wilson and Brad Gann (from the book by Bethany Hamilton, Sheryl Berk and Rick Bundschuh), Soul Surfer is an hour and 46 minutes long and distributed by Film District.