It took a total of ten people to write Soul Surfer: The three people who wrote the original book, and the seven who put together the screen story, four of whom went on to pen the screenplay. With all these writers at work, it’s a wonder that none of them could fit a believable sentence into the film, at one point they even manage to fail to arrange their words into an English sentence.
The dialogue throughout Soul Surfer is incredibly hammy and laced with cheese. It gives you a newfound respect for Dennis Quaid who manages to deliver all of his lines without sounding like a complete idiot.
Soul Surfer tells the compelling true story of Bethany Hamilton (Robb), a pro surfer who had her arm bitten off by a shark when she was 13 years old. Hamilton showed remarkable strength of will and went on to continue her success as a pro surfer.
It is a powerful tale and it drew the attention of Hollywood. The true story at the heart of the film does work, reality can make great cinema, but the Hollywood elements are less successful. Bethany and her family are devout Christians and Bethany’s faith and the help of her Junior Minister Sarah Hill (Underwood) are important to her tale. You could not tell Bethany’s story without discussing her faith and this does come across plenty of times in the film, but unfortunately the film seems to be used just a bit too often as a platform for preaching. It might have been more effective in the hands of better writers but poorly written faith simply adds to the already high levels of Hollywood cheese.
There are other niggles too: the CG removal of Bethany’s arm frequently looks like it’s just been coloured out with crayon; direction, with a few exceptions, is inherently dull. The turning point of the actual shark attack would be downright boring if it wasn’t for the driving soundtrack, but when the soundtrack isn’t driving things, it’s being almost as cheesy as the dialogue.
The two strongest things this film has going for it are the beauty of the Hawaiian setting, and the strength of the true story at the core. It’s a good TV movie, but a poor one for the cinema.