“Soul Surfer,” based on the inspirational life story of Bethany Hamilton, plays like an ad for the Hawaiian Tourist Bureau… right up to the point where young Bethany gets her arm chewed off by a rogue shark. But “Jaws,” this ain’t. “Soul Surfer” sees AnnaSophia “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” Robb play Hamilton, an award winning surfer who survived a shark attack and went on to become the Venus de Milo of the surfing world, competing professionally and winning the Best Comeback Athlete ESPY Award.
A well intentioned movie like this is hard to be cynical about but just because a movie is made with good intentions doesn’t mean it’s a good movie. Sure, it’s filled with strong messages about the importance of friends, family and faith but they are covered in a thick layer of treacle that would make even the producers of the overly-earnest “After School Specials” blush. Inspirational is one thing. Feel good is another. Then there’s “Soul Surfer,” set in a world where a shark attack is a teachable moment and it’s possible to have a poignant scene with a ukulele.
Hamilton’s story is inspirational and surely deserves a better movie than this. Perhaps a documentary would have spared us the trite dialogue, clichéd near-death sequence complete with bright white lights and stirring liturgical music and passé villain who we’re supposed to know is bad because she’s the only girl with dark hair in a sea of blondes. But that’s the kind of movie this is, literal to a fault.