[Screen It]


(2018) (Lindsay Pulsipher, Andrew W. Walker) (PG)

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Drama: Two years after her husband's combat death in Afghanistan, a young woman who's lost her religious faith finds her life coming apart, all while a racecar driver arrives in town hoping to fix his race day issues.
Two years ago, Amber Hill (LINDSAY PULSIPHER) was happily married to Darren (LIAM MATTHEWS) with whom she had a daughter, Bree (MAKENZIE MOSS), and enjoyed singing in the church choir along with her many friends, including Bridgette (JORDIN SPARKS) and Karena (ROBIN GIVENS). But then she was informed that her husband was killed in combat in Afghanistan and now Amber is struggling to make ends meet.

She has to work seven days a week in the local diner, meaning she doesn't have time to go to church, not that she would what with having lost her faith, much to the chagrin and concern of her friends. Facing foreclosure on her house, she must also contend with her mother-in-law, Patti Hill (KIM DELANEY), not approving of how she's raising 8-year-old Bree.

But she's not the only one facing issues as Mike Nelson (ARTHUR CARTWRIGHT), who was in Darren's military squadron, can't yet bring himself to tell Amber what really happened regarding her husband's death. Far less serious is professional race car driver Cody Jackson (ANDREW W. WALKER) who keeps crashing in his races and has been sent to Amber's small town of Clarksville, Kentucky where he's to spend time with local mechanic and race guru Joe Carter (GARY GRUBBS) to get his mojo back.

As he struggles with that but bonds with Bree and the other kids via go-kart racing, Amber tries to figure out how to save her house, her increasingly strained relationship with her daughter, and whether she'll ever regain her faith again.

OUR TAKE: 3.5 out of 10
Considering all that does and can go wrong in one's lifetime -- disease, crime, accidents, depression, and other mental health issues, various societal ills, poverty and much, much more -- it's somewhat surprising that anyone maintains their religious faith.

Yes, I understand that's the whole idea behind that concept -- in believing that there's a plan or reason for all that befalls most everyone -- but when millions are slaughtered in wars, many more die from horrible diseases and most people suffer in some fashion in old age -- it's easy to see why someone could walk away from whatever their religion might be. And that would likely stem from coming to the conclusion that God doesn't exist, doesn't care, or is too vindictive and cruel for their liking or understanding.

And that's especially true for those who are initially strong and unwavering in their convictions and believe they're doing everything right to lead a charmed or at least uneventful life when the hammer suddenly falls, upends everything, and throws them into a seemingly bottomless, downward spiral.

That's the kicking off point for "God Bless the Broken Road," a faith-based film based, to some lose degree, on the Rascal Flatts song of the same name. In it, Lindsay Pulsipher plays Amber Hill, the happily married mom to young Bree (Makenzie Moss) who enjoys leading her church choir in song while her husband is off serving his country in Afghanistan.

But then she gets the visit all spouses and families of our finest dread and learns her husband lost his life in combat. Flash forward two years and Amber has stopped going to church, not only because she has to work seven days a week at the local diner to try to make ends meet, but also because she now sees that her blind faith did nothing to stop tragedy from blindsiding her entire life. That includes not only having lost her husband, but also facing the seemingly inevitable loss of her house and maybe even her daughter who eventually wants to live with her grandma (Kim Delaney) rather than her.

While her judgmental mother-in-law learns of her financial dire straits, Amber's church friends (Robin Givens and Jordin Sparks) are more concerned with her religious well-being and seemingly are willing to leave her fate up to God (which must explain why they don't offer her and her daughter a place to live when foreclosure takes their house).

I'm guessing the film's writers -- Jennifer Dornbush and Harold Cronk (who also directs and was in the director's chair for the first two "God's Not Dead" films as well as the upcoming "Unbroken: Path to Redemption") -- figured divine intervention should come in the form of professional race car driver Cody Jackson (Andrew W. Walker, never convincing in the part).

He's seemingly lost his driving mojo (repeatedly crashing from not knowing when to slow down, which seems odd for a professional racer, but whatever) and has been sent by the never seen Coach Gibbs (presumably the former NFL coach turned racing team owner) to regain his driving senses by spending time with local mechanic (and apparent good ol' boy racing Yoda) Joe Carter (Gary Grubbs).

His wisdom is for the racer to attend church and help the local kids with their go-kart activities which is how he meets young Bree and thus her mom. Yes, the broken road (or race track in this case) has brought them together, but her unresolved issues still taunt her, much like a disabled vet (Arthur Cartwright) who knows what happened to her husband in country but has yet to tell her the complete story.

It's all well-intended and is obviously preaching to the choir, but it's as clunky, obvious, sometimes amateurish and manipulative as they come. Much of what occurs is to the groan-inducing point where eyes will roll and buttocks will shift in seats as we hear simplicities such as the girl being told to have faith that a tiny mustard seed now in her care will grow into something mighty while the race car driver is simply told that he needs to recognize when to slow down. And Amber simply needs to regain her faith and all will be good again in the universe.

If you want to see this sort of "my faith has been challenged by hardship" tale done better, check out "God's Not Dead: A Light in Darkness" or the upcoming "Unbroken" follow-up about Louis "Louie" Zamperini's life after coming home from the war. While neither are perfect, they work much better than this offering that sputters down a very broken cinematic road. "God Bless the Broken Road" rates as a 3.5 out of 10.

Reviewed August 29, 2018 / Posted September 7, 2018

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