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Soul Surfer (PG)

Drama 105 April 8, 2011
By Aaron Hillis
Adapted from the memoir-ized 2003 tragedy-to-triumph of Hawaiian teen surfer Bethany Hamilton�who famously returned to her board a few weeks after a tiger shark snapped off her left arm�Soul Surfer offers a ghastlier sight than your wildest 127 Hours�meets-Jaws nightmare: barefaced Christian pandering that pretends it isn't. (Fun fact: A studio exec lobbied to have the words "Holy Bible" digitally erased from a book read onscreen until the Hamilton family raised a holy stink.) Tween-flick director and co-writer Sean McNamara (Bratz) sets up his glorified movie of the week as a series of obstacles to be neatly overcome through blind optimism and trust in God, as Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) struggles with her body image post-attack and her desire to surf again, and a mean-spirited nemesis on the waves must be thwarted with kindness. Nearly every conflict is built on market-tested platitudes of empowerment and registers as insincere, especially a spurious re-creation of Bethany's visit to Thailand to aid tsunami victims. Congratulations, Hollywood, for commissioning your own modern parable about a strained family questioning their faith, in which marquee names Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt hardly break a sweat as our heroine's picture-perfect folks. Young Ms. Hamilton's story is inspiring, but if you need it spoon-fed by American Idol winner Carrie Underwood's youth-group leader, you're better off lost and godless.
Sean McNamara Dennis Quaid, AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Carrie Underwood, Craig T. Nelson, Kevin Sorbo, Jeremy Sumpter, Lorraine Nicholson, David Chokachi, Ross Thomas Michael Berk, Bethany Hamilton TriStar/FilmDistrict

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