Producers: Phillip B. Goldfine, Robert Pascuzzi and Kathy Pascuzzi   Director: Keoni Waxman   Screenplay: Keoni Waxman   Cast:  Eric Dane, Teri Polo, Peter Facinelli, Byron Mann, Leslie Uggams, Kyle Lowder, Cynthia Evans, Stephen Louis Grush, Candi Brooks, Greg Alan Williams, Bill Kelly, Lucy Faust, Beau Hart, Brayden Kelly, Wyatt Parker, Braden Clarke, Bob Proctor, Kelby Robertson, Sam Evans, Abbie Gayle, Catherine Elizabeth Cole, Ricky Russert, William H. Slaughter, Betsy Holt, Mariyah Francis and Tadasay Young   Distributor: Cinedigm  

Grade: D

A faith-based cinematic homily about forgiveness delivered in the form of a muddled mixture of mystery, tearjerker and dumbfounding theology, “The Ravine” is adapted by writer-director Keoni Waxman from a novel by Robert Pascuzzi, who (along with his wife) serves as one of the producers.  Perhaps it was his influence that led to the superabundance of characters that afflict the narrative; authors are often loathe to jettison anything from their original text, despite the fact that streamlining could appreciably improve coherence.

In any event, the catalyst, shown at the very start, is similar to that of the TV series “A Million Little Things”: a suicide.  Here it’s that of Danny Turner (Peter Facinelli), who drives his SUV off a cliff while simultaneously shooting himself in the head with a shotgun—a difficult and, one might think, superfluous combination. 

And his death is not the only one.  His wife Rachel (Cynthia Evans) and one of their two sons are found murdered in their home, though their other son Christopher (Beau Hart) was spared.

The tragedy naturally shocks those who were close to the family, most notably Danny’s brother Tony (Kyle Lowder) and Danny and Rachel’s best friends, Mitch and Carolyn Bianci (Eric Dane and Teri Polo).  Carolyn, who’d been Rachel’s BFF since high school and instrumental in getting her together with Danny, is utterly crushed, and Mitch is obsessed with finding out the truth of what happened.

Initially he and many of the others close to the dead couple suspect that the murders were the work of Logan Vanda (Stephen Louis Grush), an employee whom Danny had just fired, and of whom he was afraid, according to some phone calls he’d made to friends the night of the killings.  But the detective in charge of the police investigation (Byron Mann) explains that Vanda was not the perpetrator, but a pawn.

The screenplay plods not only through all sorts of heated conversations, involving the principals and other characters so numerous that many of them remain ciphers in the disorderly plot, but lots of flashbacks.  One of the most extended of these centers on a housebreaking that Danny and Tony (played by Kelby Robertson and Sam Evans, respectively) were involved in as high school students (and football stars).  It had resulted in the brutalization of the son of the owner (Billy Slaughter—and forgive the correction, but his character’s name is not, as given in the final credits roll, Kevin Turner but Kevin Grant) and the brothers’ incarceration.

Kevin, however, forgave them and was instrumental in securing their early release.  His decision was encouraged by a saintly black woman, Joanna Larson (Leslie Uggams), who appears periodically to nudge characters in the right direction, and will ultimately be the person who explains to Mitch and Carolyn what actually happened on that fateful night.  Joanna, it seems, is a person blessed with special abilities to peer into the present and future and perceive the struggle between the forces of good and evil in the decisions made by some individuals, as well as communicate with the spirit world.  This is revealed in yet another flashback to her childhood, in which she’s played by Mariyah Francis.

Joanna preaches a doctrine of what might be termed extreme forgiveness and discourses on the relationship between free will and providence—in other words, the whole issue of predestination.  The greatest Christian theologians have never been able to wrestle that ultimate riddle into understandable shape, and Pascuzzi, speaking through Joanna, certainly doesn’t solve it, offering up an explanation that, while somewhat comforting in its stunning simplicity, by skirting the doctrine’s profundity is unlikely to satisfy any viewers who aren’t already members of the choir—and probably not many of them either.

“The Ravine” has some good actors in the cast, and their work here is notable for its earnestness, if nothing else.  But Waxman’s direction encourages their melodramatic instincts, and they’re undercut throughout by Trevor Miroshi’s editing, which is unable to wrestle the overly convoluted plotlines into shape.  Technically the picture, shot in Louisiana, isn’t bad: Nathan Wilson’s cinematography is solid and James Golardan’s production design adequate.  The score by Ramir Djawadi too often goes for the jugular, especially in the last act, but that’s fairly typical in these manipulative quasi-sermons.

Like too many so-called faith-based movies, this one is overflowing with sincerity but lacking in virtually every other department.