Review

'A Question of Faith' tests its characters' beliefs and the audience's patience

The new drama “A Question of Faith” presents a man who loses his trust in God, another who has not yet found it and a woman who never wavers. As doctrine, it delivers its message — when in doubt, lean in, not away — loud and clear. As a movie, it’s a religious pamphlet with actors.

Featuring a veteran cast, including Richard T. Jones, Kim Fields, C. Thomas Howell, Renée O’Connor and Jaci Velasquez, the story involves three families in a leafy Atlanta suburb linked by a pair of tragedies that test their collective faith and a pair of whopping contrivances that test ours.

David Newman (Jones) is the associate pastor at his father’s megachurch, busily awaiting his installation as senior pastor and struggling to keep promises to his wife (Fields) and sons. John Danielson (Howell) is a struggling contractor whose daughter has the voice of an angel and is on the verge of a gospel recording contract. Kate Hernandez (Velasquez) is a single mom and restaurant owner whose daughter Maria can’t stop texting, even while driving, but strives to be the first one in their family to attend college.

Fate intervenes, triggering a lot of soul-searching and prayer. The men are given challenges, the women are largely there to be saintly, supportive or utilitarian. Faith comes naturally, but complexity does not for Ty Manns’ script, which plays like a first draft, one written from a manual and riddled with two-dimensional characters and on-the-nose dialogue. Director Kevan Otto shoots it like an insurance commercial in which everyone has really nice houses and tragedy unfolds in slow, telegraphed close-ups.

The film does tackle some major social issues: texting while driving, organ donation and racial prejudice. But the first two are dispatched with the efficiency of a public service announcement, while the latter appears to be nothing that a half a million dollars, in the guise of manna from heaven, can’t fix.

Coincidence may be part of God’s plan, but it’s deadly in a serious drama. Manns and Otto may have been able to make it work if they’d handled the twists as a nod to classic deus ex machina, but the audience is so far ahead of the characters in this knowledge that it results in a long second-act slog and a cringe-inducing ending. God’s work isn’t easy, but a little dramaturgical rigor wouldn’t have hurt either.

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Rating: PG, for thematic elements

Running time: 1 hour, 44 minutes

Playing: In general release

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