Review: ‘Soul Surfer’ is critic-proof

Apr. 8, 2011 | 1 Comment

REVIEW BY STEVE PERSALL / St. Petersburg Times

“Soul Surfer” is so spiritually sincere that complaining about its flaws could be an expressway to hell.

I’ll take my chances, although “Soul Surfer” is as critic-proof as movies come. Based on a true story shaped by Christian ideals, the message enables believers to overlook the elemental screenplay and performances. They won’t mind that everything in Sean McNamara’s film is played just a tad too earnestly, as if the target audience must be reassured of the power of faith.

Dennis Quaid, AnnaSophia Robb and Helen Hunt in "Soul Surfer." — COURTESY SONY PICTURES

Is it getting hot in here?

Maybe it’s time to confess that regardless of those issues, “Soul Surfer” is a fairly entertaining show, and certainly what people who think movies are a godless art can get behind. It’s the Sunday School version of “127 Hours,” with survival depending upon Scripture rather than a Swiss army knife. “Soul Surfer” is a nice movie, in temperament if not always quality.

The story focuses on Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb), a teenage surfer who lost an arm to a shark just when her career was taking off. Bethany quit surfing but returned to competition, urged by her tropi-cool parents (Dennis Quaid, Helen Hunt) and a missionary stint aiding tsunami victims with worse problems. Carrie Underwood plays her youth worship minister, so “Soul Surfer” has more than the usual celebrity cachet for a church flick.

It’s a heart-tugging story, and McNamara never misses the chance to remind viewers of that. What “Soul Surfer” needs what any story needs is a richer sense of conflict, some chance that someone won’t do the right thing.

I don’t doubt that the real Bethany is as wholesome, plucky and pious as Robb plays her. So is everyone else in “Soul Surfer” except an invented surfing rival (Sonya Balmores), who is without any compassion for Bethany (boo, hiss). She’ll see the light.

That would be a spoiler except “Soul Surfer” never intends to surprise, only confirm Christian beliefs. It’s more technically polished than typical faith-based films, especially the excellent digital “erasing” of Robb’s left arm after the shark attack.

The sermons are subtle, raising the film’s chances of crossing over to secular audiences. “Soul Surfer” is so clean that it squeaks, but sometimes that’s a nice change of pace.

‘Soul Surfer’

In theaters today

Grade: B-

  • Alpenander

    We spend so much time focusing on the physical pleasures of this life that we forget the spark of divinity that all us are born with. There is only one kind: mankind; one race: the human race; and one God: The spiritual Father of all of us. It is only logical that we would have His spiritual DNA. Bethany and her family are certainly not embarrased about their spiritual heritage. Why should we be?

    Great movie for us old California geezers and believers!