Some so-called faith-based films have become a bit more gentle in delivering their messages lately, but the sledgehammer approach comes crashing back with “God Bless the Broken Road,” from Harold Cronk (of the “God’s Not Dead” movies). Like the recent “I Can Only Imagine,” it’s inspired by a popular song—in this case, “Bless the Broken Road” recorded most successfully by Rascal Flatts; the number reflects on the life journey through hardship that eventually leads to true love.
The script Cronk and Jennifer Dombush have contrived from the song is a sort of modern retelling of the Job story, focusing on Jobette—sorry, Amber—Hill (Lindsay Pulsipher), a small-town southern girl who perkily leads the choir at the local church and lovingly tends to her daughter Bree (Makenzie Moss) while her stalwart husband Darren (Liam Matthews) is off on another tour of duty in Afghanistan. But when Darren is killed in a roadside ambush (certainly one of the least convincing combat sequences one is likely to encounter this year), Amber’s life is changed; unlike Job, her faith in God crumbles. Though Bree continues to attend Sunday school—she’ll bring home a potted mustard seed that represents the power of faith—her mom takes on extra shifts as a waitress at the diner run by hard-bitten Rosie (Patrika Darbo).
Amber needs the money to save the family house, which the bank is threatening to foreclose on; she will even borrow cash from a local pawnbroker to cover the mortgage, and eventually sell her wedding ring as well. Meanwhile her mother-in-law Patti (Kim Delaney) is angling for a greater role in Bree’s life, and the kid will rankle at having to sit around at Rosie’s while her mom works, wanting to spend more time at Patti’s. Amber’s mood darkens further as her prospects for saving the house grow dimmer.
Despite her rejection of God Amber gets support from her pastor (LaDainian Tomlinson) and church friends (most notably pals played by Robin Givens and Jordin Sparks). The one uptick in her life comes, however, from the arrival in town of stock-car driver Cody Jackson (Andrew Walker). He’s been sent down to the minors in NASCAR terms, so to speak, because his habit of taking curves too fast has led to crashes; he’s assigned to work with crusty old mechanic Joe Carter (Gary Grubbs), who’s apparently some sort of bad-driver-whisperer. (In an effort to give some authenticity to this malarkey, pro racer Cody Coughlin does an embarrassing cameo at the local track where Cody will take the wheel.)
One of the tasks Joe assigns Cody is taking charge of the youth ministry at church, which will involve the Sunday school kids, including Bree, building go-karts. But he also catches a glimpse of Amber, and is immediately smitten. Though Amber initially resists his offer of a date, she eventually succumbs to his dubious charm—cue the scene where she’s all torn up about what to wear and her church friends help her get her act together, montage-style. The couple wind up spending an evening at a Scrabble Bar (yes, such things actually exist) where country singer Micah Tyler sings uplifting songs and Amber joins in (this is obviously one hopping town).
Anyway, all this is mere prelude to the ultimate crises Amber must face. Speeding Cory crashes big-time while racing: as implausible as it seems, he emerges totally unscathed from the terrible wreckage, but Amber, apparently terrified of losing another man she’s gotten close to, not only spurns him but forbids Bree from participating in the go-kart races. That’s the last straw for the kid, who runs away and sets the whole town looking for her—in the rain, even. It will bring our troubled heroine to the brink of despair. But thankfully the church will intervene, in the person of Mike (Arthur Cartwright), a veteran confined to a wheelchair who just happened to be serving with Darren on that last, fatal mission. And would you believe that Bree’s mustard seed begins to sprout? Oh, the symbolism!
As with all movies of this sort, you can talk about the intentions of the people behind it (even if making a profit might be their dominant motive), but it’s impossible to ignore how bad the result is. “Broken Road” rams home its message without the slightest shred of subtlety, in the process turning its characters into caricatures and sacrificing honest drama for cliché-ridden sermonizing.
Among the cast, veteran Grubbs stands out by bringing a flippant sense of humor to the otherwise dour proceedings, and Darbo gives Rosie a bit of a welcome mean streak. Otherwise most of the actors are stuck reciting bromides in scenes straight out of religious soap opera: Pulsipher, who seems a pleasant enough person, has a simply awful time dealing with her big dramatic moment, when she berates God for treating her so badly, and Delaney must switch from shrewish to supportive at the drop of a hat. One might also prefer to have had less of Moss, whose childish intensity becomes exhausting. Most of the supporting cast seem pretty much lost, especially Tomlinson, who recites his lines as though he were reading them off a teleprompter. The technical credits are generally okay, if unremarkable.
One might note that part of the distribution effort for “God Bless the Broken Road” involves outreach to veterans. That’s a noble cause, but unfortunately the film itself treats the country’s support of those who have served and their families in a melodramatic rather than thoughtful fashion.