September 2nd, 2022
MOVIE: HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL.
STARRING: REGINA HALL, STERLING K. BROWN, NICOLE BEHARIE, CONPHIDANCE
DIRECTED BY: ADAMMA EBO
AMovieGuy.com’s RATING: 2 ½ STARS (Out of 4)
A lot of comedy has come from simple observations in religion and the entire concept of it. Monty Python’s The Life of Brian always comes to mind, but there is Kevin Smith’s Dogma, the animated existential hot dog crisis in Seth Rogen’s Sausage Party or the end of the world with This is the End, but it’s always the unique experiences with religion that give us something to laugh about. It’s a matter of making jokes to ease the pain and in Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul., it is the business of religion that is front and center. In director Adamma Ebo’s feature debut, it’s a tale of many parts, where the comedic stuff is gold, the dramatic stuff is fine, and the final result is ultimately successful. There’s an even greater movie in Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. I just wish there was a way to make it all see the light.
The narrative style for Honk is a documentary being made- similar to Best in Show or the other Christopher Guest comedies- where we are introduced to Trinitie (Regina Hall) and Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown), married and leading the congregation of the Southern Baptist mega church Wander to Greater Pastures. We are meeting them right in the middle of an ugly scandal, where multiple members of the congregation have accused Lee-Curtis of sexual abuse. The goal now is to have the documentary revitalize their careers, let the community see them in a more positive, and healthy way. What we do see is their gaudy lifestyle of high fashion clothes, the codependent and fractured status of the marriage, and the showmanship of their entire operation. What is evident is that running the business of a mega-church is quite a racket and you can’t just pray away all of your problems.
Narratively, what is at hand here is a movie of two halves, the first being the comedic side and the second half being the dramatic side. Sadly, both don’t gel together, but what does work no matter what are the performances from Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown. The comedic stuff is often gold, with the two of them not on the same page of how to pronounce amen, where one uses a long “AY-MEN” and the other uses the refreshing “AHH-MEN”, a sequence of various fashion shows for Trinitie’s hat collection should be its own movie, and the centerpiece sequence of the two singing Crime Mob’s “Knuck If You Buck” in the car. Without the two leads both halves don’t work, but the overarching issue was my wish that director Adamma Ebo would have chosen one. The comedy stuff is where this movie would have gone to a higher plane. That still doesn’t dismiss the great work from our two leads, including Hall, who is able to show off her versatility from the jump.
From the directing standpoint, Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is also two forms of directing, where Ebo uses the documentary style in perfect form, with talking head moments, capturing things in a fly-on-the-wall approach, but also showing the other two pastors in town- Keon (Conphidance) and Shakura Sumpter (Nicole Beharie)- in conversations to show how they have capitalized off the congregations shift to their new upstart church. When the focal point changes away from a documentary style it becomes a great shift and although the dramatic stuff works, it steals the thunder of how great the comedy truly is. If you forget the comedic stuff- which I was still craving for more- it becomes even more obvious that Ebo made a short film version of Honk, which they tried to stretch to a feature length, making polar opposite narratives into one.
The final result for Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. is a mixed bag of praise and problems. I’m often on board for a movie that challenges the capitalism approach that religion can take, similar to The Eyes of Tammy Faye or recently with The Righteous Gemstones on HBO, but the problems arrive as Honk fails to be as sharp as it can be. There’s still much to appreciate, however, as watching Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown in itself can be a showcase of what great acting, and versatility in the profession can look like. The positive stuff is there and I certainly recommend- but what is left is a question of what could have been. I think you will still enjoy it but you gotta have faith. AHHHHH-MEN? AYYY-MEN? Whatever.
FOCUS FEATURES HONK FOR JESUS. SAVE YOUR SOUL. IS PLAYING IN SELECT THEATERS AND STREAMING ON PEACOCK FRIDAY SEPTEMBER 2ND, 2022
2 ½ STARS
Written by: Leo Brady