“God Bless the Broken Road” is a sad, slight faith-based drama about loss, grieving, fresh starts and loyalty.
It dares to be somber and downbeat, hitting that whole “God and country” connection that much of Christian America embraces hard but not too hard, a movie where the grief is more deflating than wrenching.
It’s set in an Army town — Clarksville, Tenneessee — which those who serve in the 101st Airborne at nearby Fort Campbell call home. The Screaming Eagles have a support system, a “We’re family…We’ve got your back” ethos that extends to the families of soldiers.
But when you’re married to a trooper who dies in Afghanistan, maybe this isn’t the best place to start over.
Lindsay Pulsipher (“True Blood”) stars as Amber, a devoted churchgoer raising her little girl (Makenzie Moss) to sing with her every Sunday, until that fateful Sunday when the military’s death notification officers show up in — in church — with the worst possible news.
Two years later, her house is in foreclosure, she’s haunting the pawn shop to get by, she’s getting nudges from fellow church members (Robin Givens, Jordin Sparks, Madeline Carroll), friendly re-connect calls from the Airborne and point-blank nagging from her mother-in-law (Kim Delaney).
“Lean on your faith,” she’s counseled. Remember “the mustard seed,” how just a little faith can pay great dividends. If God “wants me, He knows where to find me,” is her curt answer to that.
Enter Cody, a hunky race-car driver played by Andrew W. Walker. Cody’s an “I’d rather crash than lose” hotdog who crashed one too many racecars for Joe Gibbs’ NASCAR team. Now he’s back in “the minors” getting bums-rushed into building go-carts with the Clarksville church’s youth group by mechanic/driver coach Joe (veteran character actor Gary Grubbs). Nothing like a smokey two-stroke go-cart to bring the kids closer to…emphysema?
That’s not humbling enough? How about the day Joe makes Cody play with Hot Wheels toys to figure out why he can’t “punch it” going into the corners. That’s the funniest scene in the movie, sadly.
Cody is warned that “She’s out of your league” when he eyes Amber, and he ignores it. How will Mr. Reckless adjust his style to be with a woman with a kid, who already lost a husband and father.
As Amber’s world teeters between unraveling and renewing, one of her late husband’s wounded comrades, Mike (Arthur Cartwright) makes contact. Yes, he was there when Darren died. No, Amber’s not sure she needs to hear about it.
One of the great pitfalls to many a faith-based drama is casting. Such films don’t often attract top flight talent — a Dennis Quaid here, a Jennifer Garner or AnnaSophia Robb there.
“God Bless the Broken Road” doesn’t have that problem, at least not on the female side of the ledger. The guys? Less impressive, with footballer LaDainian Tomlinson playing the preacher and nobody aside from Grubbs making much of an impression.
But the good players underplay the grief, which is the heart of their story, and the “let’s pray for her” moments don’t have the emotional punch that a single hymn has in the film’s date/concert scene.
The script spreads its wealth of character actors across a limited supply of ideas and shortchanges virtually everybody.
Still, there’s a decent third act twist. Pulsipher plays the dickens out of the “Where’s the reward for my faith, God?” moment.
It’s just that the bland unreality of too-many faith-based dramas — melodramas, really — suffocates anything promising. Nothing so testing as truly wrenching grief is attempted the awful consequences of a military insurance policy not allowing you to keep your house, a town where the pawn broker is nicer than Rosie who runs the diner where Amber works — it’s all Nutrasweet when it should be bittersweet.
Even the combat recreation is so flatly staged and shot as to make one wish they’d just written a really good monologue for Cartwright’s survivor to retell the story with.
Racing scenes? Sure, why not toss in one or two of those? There’s budget money and ambition here, just not the rewrites that give these players something to play, something that truly moves you.
Relying on your message to trump the slack movie-making is as lazy as preaching to the choir, which is all too many of these movies are content to do.
MPAA Rating: PG for thematic elements and some combat action
Credits:Directed by Harold Cronk, script by Jennifer Dornbush . A Freestyle release.
Running time: 1:50