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God Bless the Broken Road

"God Bless the Broken Road"

‘God Bless the Broken Road’

The growing faith-based film industry is on a quest for content: stories that will connect with audiences, or draw pre-existing ones. Mostly, the content has come in the form of true stories, from the Bible, medical miracles or visions of Jesus. There are the political fictions built on straw man arguments (the “God’s Not Dead” franchise). Now, there’s the “inspired by a country song” subgenre.

“I Can Only Imagine,” based on the MercyMe smash hit, was a box office hit. The film’s plot chronicles the life events that inspired lead singer Bart Millard to pen the wildly popular song’s lyrics. And now there’s “God Bless the Broken Road,” directed by Harold Cronk, director of “God’s Not Dead” and the upcoming “Unbroken: Path to Redemption.” The film is based on the Rascal Flatts song “Bless the Broken Road” and 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 widow with a young daughter, Bree (Makenzie Moss), who loses her faith when her husband is killed in Afghanistan. Two years after his death, her house on the verge of foreclosure, she’s struggling to make ends meet while waiting tables at the local diner. Amber’s lost her connection with church, and with God. 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, forced by his coach to do some small-town community service. Naturally, he starts teaching the youth of the local church, including Bree, how to build their own go-karts, while wooing the grieving Amber.

The entire conflict is all a bit strained — the denizens of the small town seemingly straight from the 1950s are all 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 all around, 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 very strange Frankenstein’s monster of a film, the story trying to combine too many elements while reverse-engineered into incorporating 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 her many come-to-Jesus moments: losing her home, her daughter running away on a go-kart and going to live with her judgmental, multi-level-marketing-shilling mother-in-law, finding out the story of her husband’s death from his Army pal, a climatic 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 a deep sense of sensitivity. At the center, she holds together this hodgepodge of random story elements that otherwise don’t make much sense together at all.

(PG, 1 ½ of 4 stars, 1 hr. 51 min.)

– Katie Walsh, Tribune News Service

'Searching'

Like movies in 3-D or constructed from "found footage," movies told through a computer screen probably will have a brief shelf life. The feeling of novelty in viewing computer contents, Skype dialogues, surveillance footage and social media posts is inherently limited.

"Searching" takes good advantage of the computer-centric subgenre before it's played out.

Wisely, the emphasis isn't this week's technology, but solid storytelling — turning a mystery that unfolds entirely on a laptop into a capably constructed classic suspense thriller. It has enough twists, turns, red herrings, chills and surprises to jangle the steadiest nerves, compelling characters and an unexpected degree of emotional power. What keeps it fresh is the decision to move this 21st-century story beyond the young 20s focus of the popular "Unfriended" movies, also launched by this film's producer, Timur Bekmambetov.

"Searching" extends to a middle-aged single dad, his brother, and a police detective leading the search for his vanished 16-year-old daughter. It gives the mystery an added level of anxiety as the troubled hero moves through unfamiliar online surroundings and activities like a fish out of water.

John Cho, most recently seen exercising his comedy chops as Sulu in the new "Star Treks," transfers impressively into drama as David Kim, a middle-class California suburban Everyman.

Recently widowed, he walks a high-wire act balancing the demands of his job with parenting his high schooler, Margot. When Margot says she needs to stay overnight with a friend for a study session, David's video message to her has all the amateur theater awkwardness of any parent who needs to express curiosity without being uncool.

When she goes absent at school and doesn't return calls or messages, David takes a step-by-step trip into high anxiety. He opens today's equivalent to a secret diary — her laptop — and discovers that he doesn't really know his daughter's whole life. Or friends. Or feelings.

First-time filmmaker Aneesh Chaganty, who directed and co-wrote the screenplay, keeps nail-biting distress running at full throttle. He's strikingly creative in finding various ways to make electronic eyes tell the story, including a kinetic fistfight. "Searching" is the reboot that computer-screen movies needed.

(PG-13, 3½ of 4 stars, 1 hr. 42 min.)

– Colin Covert, Star-Tribune (Minneapolis)

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