These days, it seems everyone wants to be famous – and the younger the person, the more attention-obsessed they seem to be. But what if you garnered international attention because a shark literally bit off your arm?
That was the dilemma faced by Bethany Hamilton on Halloween of 2003, when the teenage champion surfer survived a surprise shark attack off the coast of her home in Hawaii. Yet unlike others who have made the news due to freak occurrences, Hamilton has continued to fascinate the media due to the fact that she not only survived and recovered, but has become an even bigger star surfer since then.
Her odds-defying story is now the basis of the new film “Soul Surfer,” which dives in to Hamilton’s story by showing that her entire family has two big passions: catching waves and celebrating their Christian faith. Early on, the couple of church scenes seem like a gloss as the focus rests on surfing action and Bethany’s teenage social life.
But once the film digs deeper into her story with the attack and a riveting sequence depicting her family’s desperate race to get her to a hospital, “Surfer” finds surer footing and its performances – including Dennis Quaid and Helen Hunt as Bethany’s parents, and Anna Sophia Robb as Bethany herself, with “American Idol” champion and country singing superstar Carrie Underwood as her youth minister – also take root.
Aside from the inherent spectacle of surfing Hawaii’s spectacular coastline in competitions, “Surfer” proves affecting not only for its depiction of a family bonding through trauma but also for its portrayal of Bethany’s mission trip to the Indonesian coast after the devastating tsunami there. Her realization that there’s always a bigger crisis than your own to help others through is a timely reminder amid the ongoing tragedy in Japan.
With such a dramatic story to be told, it would have been nice if the film had attracted a heavyweight director and writing team to the project – and at one point, Oscar-winning writer Ron Bass (“Rain Man”) had his hands in the mix before the final product was written by a hodgepodge of six scribes. But director Sean McNamara is a veteran of teen TV sitcoms and it’s apparent that he and executive producer Douglas Schwartz (who earned zillions as the creator of ‘90s TV smash “Baywatch”) decided to aim their sights on reaching teenage girls and their families above other audiences.
It should be noted that "Soul Surfer" has a half-decent budget of $15 million and is being released in a full 2000 theaters nationwide this weekend. Sony Pictures has a Christian-film division called Affirm which is facing its first big test with this "Surfer" this weekend. For any one who complains that Hollywood doesn't make solid live-action family films, or that Christian films rarely seem to have a budget or recognizable stars, then be aware that the studios are going to pay a lot of attention to how "Soul Surfer" does this weekend and this is one Christian film that's actually entertaining and worth getting behind.
On the utterly other end of the moviegoing spectrum is “Your Highness,” an elaborate attempt at a comedy that also weaves in elements of knighthood, fantasy and science fiction spectacles and adventure films with its seemingly endless array of dick jokes, fart jokes and swearing. Featuring newly minted Best Actress Oscar winner Natalie Portman and her fellow Oscar nominee James Franco in what were supposed to be bawdily humorous roles, the film actually centers on a lazy loser of a knight played by Danny McBride (HBO’s “East Bound and Down”).
“Your Highness” follows a knight named Thadeous (McBride) as he embarks on a quest to rescue the bride (Zooey Deschanel) of his brother Fabious (Franco) from the clutches of an evil warlock after she’s kidnapped at their wedding. They and their men wind up meeting Isabel (Portman), a ravishing beauty who also happens to be an ass-kicking adventurer herself, and team up with her on their quest.
Facing numerous monsters and other dangers along the way, the rowdy band of misfit heroes should have had plenty of chances for creative humor as well. After all, while McBride’s HBO series “East Bound and Down” is almost relentlessly mean-spirited and outrageously profane, it’s also one of the sharpest portrayals of middle-aged loser-dom to ever hit the airwaves. But “Highness” almost exclusively relies on potty humor and foul language being used in inappropriate settings to score its relatively meager laughs.
Mixed with elaborate cinematography, great locations, colorful costumes and a terrific score, “Your Highness” had the chance to get everything right and become a genre-smashing comedy classic like “Ghostbusters.” But instead it serves as a prime example that even if you throw mountains of money to dress a film up, it still seems poor when the writing doesn’t deliver.