BROKEN BRIDGES

Country music aficionados are obviously the target audience for “Broken Bridges,” which features recording star Toby Keith and his protege Lindsey Haun as a long-separated father and daughter who finally connect with each other during a family tragedy, which just happens also to have patriotic overtones. And they may enjoy seeing some of their favorites–Willie Nelson and BeBe Winans also make brief appearances–on screen, and the periodic musical interludes. But even the biggest fans are likely to be bored by the sappy, slow-moving story, the drab direction, and the limp performances even from veterans like Tess Harper and Burt Reynolds. This “Bridges” isn’t just broken, it’s positively dilapidated.

Keith plays Bo Price, a down-and-out C&W singer barely able to get a gig because of his drinking problems. Called back to his small southern home town by the death of his brother in an army helicopter accident, he’s thrown back together with his old girlfriend Angela (Kelly Preston), now a TV reporter in Miami, whom he’d abandoned years before after getting her pregnant; by happenstance her brother was killed in the same accident. But Bo is also introduced to the daughter he’d never met, the punkish Dixie Leigh (Haun), who has musical ambitions herself. What follows is pretty predictable. After a halting beginning, Bo and Dixie Lee bond and even wind up singing together. And he and Angela overcome their differences and, by the end of the movie, are an item again.

But that’s not all the domestic drama in “Broken Bridges.” Angela’s long been estranged from her father Jake (Reynolds), and though her mother (Harper) tries to mediate between them, he remains obdurate for a long while before mellowing. Bo and Angela have to deal with her old chum, who’d been instrumental in causing the rift between her and Jake over Bo and now, something of a bar floozy, seems interested in him. Bo has to put up with a bit of contempt from townspeople who see him as having abandoned the locality. In a plot turn that clumsily tries to draw a symmetry between past and present, Bo intervenes violently when Dixie Leigh is assaulted by a local youth who–until the incident–had seemed a rather likable sort, and he and Angela try to persuade the girl to press charges against the boy. One character suffers a health crisis. And Bo persuades some special guests to perform at a memorial service for his and Angela’s brothers, including his own daughter; a benefit concert for the surviving family members is also in the offing.

All of this comes across as terribly mawkish, like a Hallmark Hall of Fame TV movie. And not even a good TV movie. “Broken Bridges” is poorly written and directed in pedestrian fashion, and visually it’s completely undistinguished. It’s also badly acted. Keith, to give him the benefit of the doubt, appears to be trying to underact; certainly he couldn’t be accused to going too far, coming across as phlegmatic and bland. He’s not a natural. Haun is shrill, and Preston pretty much all over the place, while Reynolds looks bored and Harper, in quite limited footage, tries unsuccessfully to fill out a blank character. The supporting cast is mediocre across the board, with Anna Maria Horsford standing out for all the wrong reasons as Angela’s childhood chum, who tells Dixie Leigh about her mother’s past.

“Broken Bridges” is the first feature production from CMT (Country Music Television). If it’s characteristic, let’s hope it’s the last.