Race To Witch Mountain's AnnaSophia Robb plays Bethany Hamilton, the teenage surf star who summoned the courage to pursue her sporting dream after losing an arm in a shark attack. A true story of bravery and family support, the latter provided here by Hollywood stalwarts Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as Bethany's on-screen parents.
In 2003, Bethany Hamilton, then 13 and a wannabe pro-surfer from Hawaii, lost her entire left arm in a shark attack during an early morning surf. Within a month, she was back in the water, up on her board and went on to win the national championship she had always dreamed of. An inspirational story if ever there was one.
What a shame then, that Bratz director Sean McNamara has adapted it for the big screen in such an uninspiring way. Soul Surfer is so overloaded with preachy, almost eerily optimistic shmaltz that it actually emerges less believable than many of its fictional counterparts.
The film starts off well enough - perfect, tanned bodies line the stunning Hawaiian shoreline every day, all desperate to catch the perfect wave. If nothing else, Soul Surfer deserves plaudits for its sweeping scenic shots and its close-ups of the glowing, weathered skin of Bethany's parents (Quaid and Hunt). The passion for sun and surf that Bethany later can't turn her back on is a way of life here.
But the dialogue is littered with cliches so corny it's to the actors credit that they manage to say them with a straight face. One notable example is when Bethany's mum shows her a picture of the Venus de Milo. "For centuries all over the world she was considered the pinnacle of beauty - and she has one less arm than you."
The moment when the shark bites and its immediate aftermath is the best sequence of the film, a series of blurry, panicked daydreams, with the crashing waves acting both as terror and relief.
But the perfunctory feel of the recovery - and of the victim's relentless optimism (bar one gloomy scene where Bethany's Barbie gets it) - seem insincere.
No doubt the lack of tears is meant to show shock or courage - or both - and anyone who has watched interviews with the real Bethany will agree that she does seem singularly cheerful, perhaps largely due to the Christian faith she often speaks about and which the film laboriously embraces.
But true or not, it just doesn't translate. Everything is too easy, too smooth. Where is the emotional struggle, let alone the physical obstacles that, though she overcomes them, Bethany would certainly have faced?
Again, the script has a lot to answer for: just one day after the accident, the doctor comes to examine her. "Ah," he says. "I understand you're feelin' kinda lousy - but don't worry, that's normal." Cue relieved grins all round. Lousy? Normal?! No kidding.
Kind of like Blue Crush - just with sharks - the surf-tastic story of pretty, devout Bethany Hamilton's triumph over adversity is bound to find an audience.
But unless you like your inspiration in heavy-handed doses, you might be better off watching the real thing - on YouTube.