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IN SHORT: An average sit recreating an extraordinary story. [Rated PG for an intense accident sequence and some thematic material. 106 minutes]
Yours Cranky has only visited Hawaii once -- we strongly recomend you visit, even if you're on the east coast and Bermuda or the islands (Virgin or otherwise) are a shorter flight. The one thing we remember well from trips to the beach were big warning signs about (whether or not there had been) shark sightings in the water. Of course, the beaches we went to weren't the same beaches that surfboard riders went to . . .
. . . which brings us to some isolated strip of beach on the north shore (of the Big Island) where an almost pro boarder named Bethany Hamilton (AnnaSophia Robb) goes with her best friend - also almost a pro boarder - Alana Blanchard (Lorraine Nicholson), said BFF's dad Holt (Kevin Sorbo) and a couple of other friends. Bethany probably shouldn't be riding waves as her father, Tom Hamilton (Dennis Quaid) is in for knee surgery that day. The film makes the point that both parents are die hard surfers so, we guess, mom Cheri Hamilton (Helen Hunt) covered the hospital base and the rest sort of all makes sense.
While waiting on their boards for a good wave to form, Bethany idly slaps the water with her left hand. That motion catches the attention of one of those sharks that tourists get warned about and said shark chomps Bethany's left arm off, all the way up to the shoulder. Dad, (again) in for surgery, gets this feeling that something is very, very wrong . . .
Yep, it's another "based on a true story" movie, folks. BUT, on a day when we critics were seeing three or four films back to back -- press junkets are in New York this month -- a critic we don't know and who hadn't yet seen this film passed along the opinion that Soul Surfer was just "another Lifetime movie." We responded that those of us in New York may find the real story behind Soul Surfer as unlikely as the also true story of a New York legal secretary (male) who waited for a green light one morning; of a truck behind him, whose brakes failed; of a crash into a street lamp which then slammed down on the head of the aforementioned secretary, crushing his skull down onto his neck and breaking same.
I then waved my cane at the other critic and he shut the hell up about "Lifetme Movies."
We then watched Soul Surfer, which lays out Bethany's family's earnest Christian beliefs; their other devotion (to surfing); a fierce rivalry with another surfer -- Malina Birch (Sonya Balmores) whose behavior makes us want to misspell her last name. As this is a famiy friendly site, we won't <g> -- The film then covers all that follows the accident, including a television show's offer of a high-tech prosthetic arm ; Bethany's decision to abandon surfing; a relief effort trip to tsunami wreced Thailand and her personal realization that, all in all, some people have it a lot worse off than losing an arm. Bethany's decision to relearn surfing as a one-armed person, and all that follows when the Nationals come to Hawaii to determine the best surfer in the country, makes Soul Surfer a pretty busy movie.
In other words, Soul Surfer has its own script problems. It's probably because of (and we're not going to try to unravel) the number of names that share script and story credit. We found ourself wondering why Bethany's preacher didn't pay a visit post accident or why he isn't seen during a relief effort trip to Phuket (Thailan) - Bethany's churchmates make admirable efforts to aid areas trashed by natural disaster. A good thing. We questioned the actions of one character in the story -- one part of this story is created for drama and one part just seems that way.
We're not telling which is which because Soul Surfer wasn't all that bad a sit. Nothing to scream to the mountains about either, but on a day with three other films to see, it sat in the middle of the pack.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Soul Surfer, he would have paid . . .
It's a rental (so maybe the Lifetme crack was close to reality. We don't watch Lifetime). But we give major props to the real Bethany because we know from our own travails how it feels not to have use of a limb. There's an emotional component that comes along with it that isn't addressed in the film -- speaking personally, I don't know if it can be. That's the actor's job and, with a zillion writers on this project, I am surprised that the initial fears of "how do I make do without" aren't addressed. How it is dealt with, post the trip to Phuket, is adequate.
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