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"Soul Surfer" a Teen Movie of the Week for the Beach

Adapted from the memoirized 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. Tween-flick director and cowriter 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 postattack 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.


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