TUCSON, Ariz. — "Redeeming Love" is a sleepy Old West love story that struggles to pull compelling characters into a cohesive tale.
The Christian-themed saga follows the struggles of Angel (Abigail Cowen), who was forced into prostitution as a girl, a victim of a human trafficking operation that feasted on parents struggling to feed themselves.
Bruised and battered — both emotionally and physically — by years of brothel life, she carves out a hardscrabble existence during the California Gold Rush.
She builds up a tough exterior that leaves her closed off to potential happiness as a survival necessity. She meets Michael (Tom Lewis), a traveling merchant who becomes smitten with her, believing their romance is heavenly ordained.
Social and monetary demands — as well as lifestyle misunderstandings — drive wedges between the couple, but Angel and Michael manage to swipe fleeting moments of joy from their grim existence.
Director D.J. Caruso co-wrote the script with Francine Rivers, who penned the 1991 novel based on the movie.
The film struggles to find a consistent tone. Awkward choices abound, from all-over-the-map accents to jumpy story moments and an odd selection of modern love songs filling out the soundtrack.
Like many movies adapted from novels, there is too much content to cram into a feature-length script, even one that stretches well past the two-hour mark. As a result, the film plays like a highlight reel of barely-connected moments rather than a smooth narrative.
The disappointing result squanders otherwise solid work from actors, particularly Cowen in an emotionally complex role. Famke Janssen also makes an impression as Duchess, Angel's calculating madame.
"Redeeming Love" deserves praise for avoiding the softer touches of many Christian-themed movies in favor of taking a hard, realistic look at concepts such as prostitution, earning the movie a rare-for-a-faith-based film PG-13 rating.
But the scattershot story slips away like gold flakes from a prospector's pan, eluding redemption of a squandered opportunity.
RATING: 2 stars out of 4.