'God Bless the Broken Road': Film Review

A cinematic homily.

A young widow struggles to raise her daughter amidst financial woes in this drama from the director of 'God's Not Dead.'

The latest effort from faith-based filmmaker Harold Cronk (God's Not Dead, God's Not Dead 2) seems designed by a computer program to touch every American heartland base. Reverence for God and the church: Check. Patriotism and the highest regard for military service: Check. Country music: Check. NASCAR racing: Check. It's a wonder the film didn't sneak apple pie in somewhere. The only thing missing from God Bless the Broken Road is compelling or believable drama.

Its title inspired by the Rascal Flatts song, the film centers on Amber (an appealing Lindsay Pulsipher), a single mom living in a small Kentucky town and struggling to make ends meet as a waitress after her husband was killed serving in Afghanistan. Facing foreclosure on her house, Amber is at the end of her rope, borrowing money at usurious interest rates from a local pawnshop and selling off pieces of furniture and her wedding ring. Her overbearing mother-in-law (Kim Delaney) seems less interested in helping than in seizing custody of Amber's daughter, Bree (Makenzie Moss). On the plus side, Amber's best friends from church (Robin Givens, Jordin Sparks) occasionally show up at her home with a platter of ziti.

A possible romantic interest for Amber arrives in the form of Cody Jackson (Andrew W. Walker, suitably stubbled), a NASCAR driver who has been sent to the town to do community service as some sort of penance for being too reckless on the track. He's taken under the wing of local garage owner Joe (veteran character actor Gary Grubbs, stealing the film), who counsels him to (metaphor alert!) slow down on the curves.

Amber, distracted by her financial problems and still mourning the death of her husband, is initially resistant to Cody's overtures. But she finally agrees to go out on a date, which consists of coffee and playing Scrabble and a friendly pat on the shoulder at the end of the evening.

Meanwhile, Bree becomes increasingly unhappy with her mother, running away at one point and declaring that she wants to live with her grandmother. Amber struggles with her faith in the midst of her travails, expressing her anger at God by yelling at the local church.

Director/co-screenwriter Cronk occasionally injects some levity into the melodramatic proceedings, but the leaden attempts at cutesy humor fall flat. Every symbolic aspect of the story is telegraphed to the nth degree, such as when Bree plants a mustard seed in the hope that it will grow to become a tree. "That plant's not gonna grow," a dispirited Amber tells her friends, essentially providing the setup for the film's final shot.

It's not the religious values of the film's characters that prove tiresome. It's the cliched characterizations, hackneyed dialogue and formulaic plotting. You can feel the storytelling gears grinding as God Bless the Broken Road strains to dramatize its inspirational messages about the power of faith, friendship and love, delivered with all the subtlety of sayings stitched on pillows. It's bland cinematic comfort food, served up to an audience that seems to need an endless amount of comforting.

Production companies: 10 West Studios, Great Basin Entertainment, Really Good Home Pictures
Distributor: Freestyle Releasing
Cast: Lindsay Pulsipher, Makenzie Moss, Andrew W. Walker, Kim Delaney, Robin Givens, Gary Grubbs, Arthur Cartwright, LaDainian Tomlinson, Madeline Carroll, Jordin Sparks
Director: Harold Cronk
Screenwriters: Jennifer Dornbush, Harold Cronk
Producers: Andy Fraser, Dustin Solomon, Edgar Struble
Executive producers: Jeremy Page, Stephen Afendoulis, Matt Cook
Director of photography: Philip Roy
Production designer: James R. Cunningham

Costume designer: Susan Barnard
Editor: Jesse Daniel
Composer: Will Musser

Rated PG, 111 minutes