By Michael O'Sullivan
Based on Francine Rivers's best-selling 1991 novel, a Christian-themed historical romance loosely inspired by a minor character mentioned in the biblical Book of Hosea, the faith-based melodrama "Redeeming Love" tells the story of Gold Rush-era prostitute Angel (Abigail Cowen) and the power of love - both a good man's and God's - to transform and heal.
Sold into sex work as an illegitimate child, and now plying her cynical trade in the town of Pair-a-Dice, Calif. (say it out loud to get the full effect of the groan-worthy pun), Angel is subjected to all manner of physical, sexual and psychological abuse over the course of the film, which somehow manages to be both sugary and tawdry, both highly polished and slightly lazy.
Before she is reluctantly rescued by - and ultimately married off to - Christian farmer Michael Hosea (Tom Lewis), we see, in flashback, that Angel has been a victim of: child-rape; an abortion and enforced sterilisation; a brutal beating; and transactional sex with her father (Josh Taylor), who shoots himself in the head in front of her after he realizes what he has done.
In a later scene, Angel also has sex with her own brother-in-law (Logan Marshall-Green), in payment for transportation after she runs away from Michael.
A frontier cafe she eventually opens up is burned down by an arsonist.
Angel feels she is unworthy of Michael's love, you see. And, honestly, most people probably would feel the same way.
He is such a squeaky clean, cheerful and steadfast goody-two-shoes that it's hard to imagine anyone feeling that they are remotely good enough for him.
Besides, what woman wouldn't be put off by a suitor who announced that God had handpicked her for him?
This, of course, is the whole point of the book and the movie.
Michael's faithful devotion, and, ultimately, a touch of divine, perhaps even miraculous grace come to make Angel realize she does merit happiness.
But boy, oh boy, does she have a hard road to walk before all that kicks in. It's kind of tough for us to watch, too.
Director and co-writer D.J. Caruso ("XXX: Return of Xander Cage") makes slick work of the source material, adapting the screenplay with Rivers into an engrossing but superficial epic of suffering in which character takes a back seat to story.
"Redeeming Love" is an incident-rich saga populated by cardboard heroes and villains and outfitted with greeting-card sentiments and cartoon villainy.
Its message is a fine and dandy one, but it's delivered not by Pony Express, but a herd of thundering buffalo.