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Originally published Friday, April 8, 2011 at 3:01 PM

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Movie review

'Soul Surfer': Film based on real inspirational girl feels fake

"Soul Surfer," an uninspiring movie about an inspiring event, stars AnnaSophia Robb as Bethany Hamilton, a young girl who lost her arm in a shark attack but went on to become a surfing champion. It may have worked better as a documentary.

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review2 stars

'Soul Surfer,' with AnnaSophia Robb, Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid, Lorraine Nicholson, Carrie Underwood. Directed by Sean McNamara, from a screenplay by McNamara, Deborah Schwartz, Douglas Schwartz and Michael Berk. 105 minutes. Rated PG for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material. Several theaters.

An uninspired movie about an inspiring event, Sean McNamara's "Soul Surfer" is the story of teenage surfer Bethany Hamilton, who in 2003 lost her arm in a shark attack yet went on to become a surfing champion. Its best moments are over the final credits, as the real Bethany joyously surfs on a Hawaii beach, her balance and form so perfect it seems unthinkable she's missing a limb. Her determination and achievement is remarkable, particularly for someone so young (she's only 21 now), and you wonder why this movie isn't a documentary, rather than a synthetic feature film with the heroine's arm digitally removed.

Nothing in "Soul Surfer" feels real; the writing is bland, the characters saintly, the problems easily solved. AnnaSophia Robb, as Bethany, is charming (particularly in the early scenes, as you sense the freedom she finds in riding a big wave), but her character is given no nuance. Bethany adjusts to her new life with almost miraculous ease. Her best friend (Lorraine Nicholson; Jack's daughter), has a little off-screen anxiety about the accident but is quickly Just Fine; her parents (Helen Hunt, Dennis Quaid) bravely make the best of things; her youth-fellowship leader (singer Carrie Underwood, in an unpromising acting debut) spouts platitudes. You start looking forward to a sneering surfing competitor, Malina (Sonya Balmores Chung), who has pretty much the only personality in the movie — though even she becomes a sweetheart by the final scene.

Those traumatized by the amputation in "127 Hours," will find this film less alarming; the shark attack is handled quickly (blink and you'll miss it) and with a minimum of gore. But "Soul Surfer," for all its pretty shots of the Hawaiian coast, never touches the heart the way "127 Hours" did. It's a bland, generic movie about nice people, nothing more.

Moira Macdonald: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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