“God Bless the Broken Road,” named for a song made famous by Rascal Flatts, is a well-meaning, competently made faith-based drama. But good intentions and a diverse cast aren’t enough to spread the gospel beyond moviegoers already invested in God (and country music and NASCAR).
And it’s unfortunate the tribute to veterans that is so much a part of the movie’s marketing turns out to be little more than a framing device that’s dispensed with for most of the plot.
Set in a small town in Kentucky, the movie revolves around Amber (Lindsay Pulsipher of “True Blood”), whose angelic voice used to lead the church choir in devotional country songs until she stopped going to church two years ago after her husband was killed in Afghanistan. Her daughter, Bree (Makenzie Moss), however, keeps the faith, planting a mustard seed, which, as the parable says, grows from small beginnings, much like the kingdom of Heaven.
The young widow struggles to make ends meet, working extra shifts at the local diner and taking high-interest loans from a pawnshop. She’s in danger of losing her house, much to the chagrin of her mother-in-law (Kim Delaney of “NYPD Blue”). Amber considers moving on with her life when she meets Cody (Andrew W. Walker), a hotshot racecar driver who’s had his own troubles.
There are powerful themes of doubt and redemption here, and character actor Gary Grubbs (“The X Files”) is convincing as Joe, the avuncular auto repair-shop owner who teaches “Speed Racer,” as he calls Cody, to slow down when he takes a curve. Ironically, this faith-based film requires a suspension of disbelief: Joe’s lesson is an apt metaphor for life, sure, but how could Cody have had any success on the track if he didn’t already know when to slow down? The parables of Jesus are instructive because they speak to real struggles, but Cody’s hubris is pure contrivance.
Worse, extras in group scenes stare at the camera uncomfortably, as if director Harold Cronk (“God’s Not Dead”) failed to give them any guidance. The filmmakers display technical proficiency - shot rhythms and graceful camerawork suggest an omniscient power gently observing His charges - and there is a natural drama in seeing flawed humans struggle with their belief.
But aside from Grubbs’s genuine wisdom, the characters for the most part play inspirational pawns more than three-dimensional people, their relationships held together by the most slender of threads. “God Bless the Broken Road” plants a seed of evangelical drama, but its efforts to proselytize are unlikely to bear fruit.