The takeaway line from this reverent retelling of shark attack victim Bethany Hamilton's ordeal is that with faith, all things are possible.

Just goes to show that the Gospel isn't always right. Faith clearly does not assure a good movie.

Hamilton, half tomboy/half mermaid, was a surfing prodigy who grew up in a family of surfers in Hawaii. (She is not, however, related to big wave legend Laird Hamilton).

In 2003, barely into her teens, she lost her left arm to a tiger shark. (Gratefully, Soul Surfer does not depict the incident in graphic detail.)

The film is primarily devoted to her struggle with diminished capacity ("How can this be God's plan for me?" she asks, weeping) and her determination to get back in the water.

The comeback is a given. Even as she lies in a hospital bed after losing a limb and most of her blood, Bethany (AnnaSophia Robb) pleads with her father (Dennis Quaid), "When can I surf again?"

First she must struggle to accept her limitations. Even mundane tasks, such as fixing her hair or playing her beloved ukulele, are beyond her.

Her guide through the morass of despair is the youth minister at her beachfront church. It's the acting debut for country singer Carrie Underwood.

Her stiffness is hardly noticeable in this March of the Wooden Actors. Even Helen Hunt, as Bethany's mom, goes through the film with a single expression: scared sick.

Soul Surfer has a strikingly eclectic cast including Craig T. Nelson, General Hospital's Ross Thomas, Kevin Sorbo and stock villain Branscombe Richmond, who resembles a swarthy Dog the Bounty Hunter, cast against type and ethnicity here as a sunny native Hawaiian.

And, no, your eyes are not deceiving you. The paramedic rushing Bethany to the hospital? That's Baywatch's David Chokachi.

The aquatic and surf scenes are spectacular. The story, a clichéed climb to inspiration. Soul Surfer is more parable than plot.

If you've been waiting for a faith-based movie about surfing, your outrigger just came in. The rest of you - back in the water.


Contact staff writer David Hiltbrand at 215-854-4552 or dhiltbrand@phillynews.com. Read his pop-culture blog at http://www.philly.com/philly/blogs/dave_on_demand