DVD Reviews, New Movie Releases, Rating

A Long Way Off More Product Placement than Parable

<i>A Long Way Off</i> More Product Placement than Parable

DVD Release Date: November 11, 2014
Rating: PG
Genre: Drama/Family
Run Time: 105 min.
Director: Andreas Wilcken Jr.
Cast: John Diehl, Jason Burkey, Zoe Myers, Robert Davi, Johanna Jowett, Edie McClurg

The story of the Prodigal Son is precious to Christians because, in a deep and personal way, we recognize it as our own. We see ourselves in the proud, selfish son who left home with a fortune he did not deserve, only to come back after wasting it all. Meanwhile, God is revealed in the character of the father who, despite everything his son has put him through, still runs out to embrace his broken child. No other parable paints such a simple, beautiful picture of the Gospel. So it’s frustrating when new adaptations don't show it the respect it deserves.

To be fair, A Long Way Off had the odds stacked against it. The latest release from Word Films dubbed itself "the modern day story of the prodigal son" and tried hard to be your standard, well-intentioned Christian movie. The opening introduces viewers to a young man named Jake Abraham (Jason Burkey) who works on his family's farm until ambition and laziness lead him to start a new life in the big city. Despite this promising start, A Long Way Off inevitably fails not because of bland acting or cheap dialogue, but something much worse. It turns one of Jesus' most important lessons into a vehicle for selling merchandise.

Roughly a third of the movie is plugged with scenes featuring conservative voices or religious products. At first, this aspect of the film is merely annoying, but as the story progresses it grows to dominate the background. In one instance, the scene jumps to a bookstore where the camera loiters over a table of Christian literature, set at just the right angle to ensure the titles really pop. You'd hope that would be enough of the on-screen endorsement, but instead the characters spend several minutes talking about these books, greeting the authors (who just happen to be there for a signing) and making purchases. The worst part is the movie tries to play this off as a sweet moment between the main couple, when there's no denying it's just shameless advertising.

Now, let's be clear, there's nothing wrong with a little self-promotion. These days you'd be hard pressed to find any movie that doesn't advertise Pepsi or make some kind of political statement. The difference here is that this isn't a summer blockbuster from Michael Bay, this is a retelling of the parable of The Prodigal Son! Last I checked, Jesus never stopped mid-message to offer listeners a discount on fish or a chance to buy his new scroll. Making matters worse is the Gospel aspect of the film, which is presented with all the subtlety of a head-on train collision.

Instead of allowing the parable to unfold on its own, Christian messages are shoehorned in all the wrong places. Jake is repeatedly accosted by characters urging him to return to his father, to attend church, to ask God's forgiveness, etc. Filling a film with Christian values isn't a bad thing, but when the film is a retelling of the Prodigal Son, are they really necessary? These instances of overkill ironically serve to diminish the parable, leeching the characters of their authority. Jake and his father become just another pair of American Christianists, not impeccable symbols for humanity and God.

A Long Way Off could have been a decent movie. It had a good cast, nice acting, and a story that would resonate with Christian viewers. Unfortunately, the film is stuffed with so much product it feels like watching an infomercial. Audiences looking for a new spin on the old parable will be sorely disappointed at the waste of potential. All things considered, it would be best if Christians just stuck with reading Luke 15.

CAUTIONS (may contain spoilers):

  • Drugs/alcohol: Alcoholic beverages are frequently consumed, some characters are implied to be drunk
  • Language/Profanity: None
  • Sex/Nudity: It is implied that Jake sleeps around; some flirting, dancing in a club; one character dresses seductively
  • Violence: Jake ends up doing business with a mobster who has him severly beaten; he also threatens to kill Jake; Jake tries to buy a gun but is refused
  • Religion/Morals: Lots of talk about God and Jesus, people invite Jake to Church, a Church provides for the farm and homeless shelter

Publication date: September 3, 2014