Adapted from the memoir-ized 2003 tragedy-to-triumph of Hawaiian teen surfer Bethany Hamilton—who famously returned to her board a few weeks after a tiger shark bit 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. (Fun fact: A studio exec lobbied to have the words "Holy Bible" digitally erased from a book read onscreen until the Hamilton family raised a holy stink.) Tween-flick director and co-writer 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 post-attack 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.
Happy beach family Quaid, Robb, and Hunt.
Opens at Pacific Place and other theaters, Fri., April 8. Rated PG. 106 minutes.