The growing faith-based film industry is on a quest for content: Stories that will cross over and connect with audiences beyond the preexisting one. Mostly, the content has come in the form of true stories, or based on the Bible, medical miracles or visions of Jesus, not to mention the political fictions built on straw-man arguments (the “God’s Not Dead” franchise). Now, there’s the “inspired by a country song” subgenre.
First, there was the box-office hit “I Can Only Imagine,” based on the MercyMe smash. Now there’s “God Bless the Broken Road,” from “God’s Not Dead” director Harold Cronk. Based on the Rascal Flatts song “Bless the Broken Road,” the film combines NASCAR and the war in Afghanistan to craft a story connected to the song by the thinnest of threads.
Lindsay Pulsipher stars as Amber, a widowed mother who loses her faith and her connection to God when her husband is killed in Afghanistan. Two years after his death, with her house on the verge of foreclosure, she struggles to make ends meet while waiting tables at the local diner. But she catches the eye of a handsome stranger, Cody (Andrew W. Walker), a bad-boy NASCAR driver who rolls into town after a crash forces him to do some community service. He starts with teaching the youth of the local church, including Amber’s young daughter Bree (Makenzie Moss), how to build their own go-karts, while wooing the girl’s grieving mom.
The entire conflict is all a bit strained — the denizens of the small town seemingly straight from the 1950s are awfully judgmental of the young pair. Apparently Cody is a bad guy because he crashes a lot — isn’t that what they do in NASCAR? Furthermore, there isn’t a shred of charity shown toward war widow Amber, who has to pawn her engagement ring to make house payments. Everyone shows terrible judgment, except for her friends from church (Robin Givens and Jordin Sparks), who have the good sense to show up with a ziti every now and then and find her a new home.
“God Bless the Broken Road” is a strange Frankenstein’s monster of a film, trying to combine too many ill-fitting story elements while straining to incorporate the title of a popular country song. It is unclear what anything in the movie has to do with Rascal Flatts or the song, except that Amber sings it at the end in her triumphant return to church, after a litany of come-to-Jesus moments: losing her home; her daughter running away; finding out the story of her husband’s death from his Army pal; and a climactic NASCAR race wherein her new boyfriend drives a commemorative car decked out in pink camouflage and eagles.
What “God Bless the Broken Road” does have going for it is a better-than-expected performance by Pulsipher, who plays the winsome but broken woman with deep sensitivity. As the film’s center, she holds together this narrative hodgepodge.
‘God Bless the Broken Road’
Rated: PG, for thematic elements and some combat action
Running time: 1 hour, 51 minutes
Playing: Starts Sept. 7, in general release