The Christian-themed drama “God Bless the Broken Road” wears its earnest heart on its sleeve, and isn’t afraid to show it. Whatever its other faults in storytelling short-cuts, it must be said that it’s the most sincere pumpkin patch for miles around.
That’s a bit of a surprise, since it’s directed by Harold Cronk, who has built a little movie empire of hectoring, in-your-face Christianity with his “God’s Not Dead” films. Those films usually pit a devout Christian against paper-tiger atheist villains in an adversarial setting, with lots of shouting, until the atheist breaks down sobbing at the error of his ways.
In “God Bless the Broken Road” — the title comes from a Rascal Flatts song — the elements of Christianity are present, but not oppressively so. This is more about the characters’ faith, and the obstacles placed in their way through life.
Amber Hill, played by Lindsay Pulsipher (best known for her work in “True Blood”), has more obstacles than most. She’s a single mom, scraping by barely as she raises her daughter, Bree (Makenzie Moss), in a small Kentucky town. The town is near an Army base, a painful reminder to Amber that her husband, Sgt. Darren Hill (Liam Matthews), was killed in Afghanistan a couple years before.
Amber is stubborn, refusing help from her husband’s former soldiers or from his mother, Patti (Kim Delaney, formerly of “NYPD Blue”). She also has stopped attending the local church, where she used to be choir director. (Robin Givens and singer Jordin Sparks play two of the members of the choir.)
Amber works extra shifts as a diner waitress, but that’s not enough to cover the mortgage, and she’s in danger of losing the house, the only thing her husband left her, to the bank. Amber’s efforts to dig out of this financial hole only put her deeper, and it’s all to the good that Cronk and his co-writer, Jennifer Dornbush, explore how difficult and expensive it is to be poor in America.
Brightening Amber’s life, and complicating it, is the arrival of Lightning McQueen, er, Cody Jackson (Andrew W. Walker), a self-centered stock-car racer who’s been sent to this small town for sage mentoring from local mechanic and racing guru Joe Carter (Gary Grubbs). Joe’s garage is near the diner, so it’s not long before Cody is asking Amber out to dinner, and helping the kids in town, including Bree, build and race their own go-karts.
Cronk pours on the melodrama in some passages, like when Mike Nelson (Arthur Cartwright), a soldier in Sgt. Hill’s unit, recounts the day Hill died. (In light of the movie’s wartime themes, the producers have promised to give 5 percent of the proceeds to the Disabled American Veterans.) Cronk also sets the requisite inspirational moments in the local church, with Hall of Fame running back LaDainian Tomlinson as the pastor.
“God Bless the Broken Road” has its quiet epiphanies but no big hand-of-God miracles, which sound great in a Sunday sermon but in a movie come off as lazy screenwriting. Thankfully, the drama centers on Amber, played with tenderness and spunk by Pulsipher, and the more true-to-life spiritual crisis of someone alienated from and drawn back to her faith.
‘God Bless the Broken Road’
Opens Friday, Sept. 7, in theaters nationwide. Rated PG for thematic elements and some combat action. Running time: 111 minutes.