“Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” (2022) – “Religion f***** a lot of people up. The m***** f****** ‘(In) God We Trust’ is on the dollar.” – Richard Pryor
“Don’t call it a comeback. I’ve been here for years.” – “Mama Said Knock You Out” (1990), LL Cool J
Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) and his wife, Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall), are planning a revival, a return to their place of worship, the Wander to the Greater Paths Baptist Church, for an Easter Sunday service.
For years, Pastor Lee-Curtis and Trinitie were local celebrities in Atlanta. During the first few minutes of writer/director Adamma Ebo’s film, we see an enormous outpouring of love and money cast toward the Childs. A couple of thousand believers “religiously” attended the pastor’s sermons every Sunday, and their donations helped finance the Childs’ opportunity to spread the word of God and enjoy an opulent lifestyle. They reside in a 10,000 sq. foot mansion, drive expensive cars, and wander through a wardrobe that resembles Saks Fifth Avenue.
“A pastor in Prada gives you chills,” Trinitie says.
Oh, and they regularly sit on golden thrones, like a king and queen, at their ministry.
However, society casts them out of Eden when Lee-Curtis becomes embroiled in a scandal.
After a forced sabbatical, the Childs recruit a film crew for publicity, and Lee-Curtis says, “This is going to chronicle the ultimate comeback.”
Ebo’s film is a faux-documentary where the said crew accompanies our two ego-bruised leads through their steep climb towards redemption, as Lee-Curtis and Trinitie attempt to repair their fallen walls of Jericho. However, “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.” is a mockumentary in the vein of Christopher Guest’s “Best in Show” (2000) or Rob Reiner’s “This is Spinal Tap” (1984). Granted, “Honk” is not as strong as the two aforementioned classics, but Ebo, Brown, and Hall deliver many laugh-out-loud moments for about half of the 102-minute runtime, as this flawed couple frequently falls into embarrassment and succumbs to inadvertent hilarity through clumsy actions.
Lee-Curtis frequently showboats, and Trinitie squirms in awkward discomfort. Sterling is on-point with this character as he repeatedly delivers macho grandstanding and stages mini-celebration dances, as Lee-Curtis’ Dunning-Kruger effect is on full display. Meanwhile, Regina’s Trinitie nervously glances at the camera and sometimes asks, “Can we cut out that part?”
Ebo, however, does not make cuts, as we witness this entire holy train wreck, and our lead actors successfully address the monumental task of navigating their comedic timing through their characters’ moral and financial calamity.
That’s the thing. As mentioned earlier, the comic moments unfold for about half the picture because Adamma makes bold choices that turn “Honk” from a straightforward comedy to an arthouse picture. Well done, as the script steps into unexpected territory, and Brown and Hall deliver robust performances to withstand – and also bend towards – the gusts of changing, gloomier tones. Indeed, these shifts challenge the audience, but we experience profound, reflective gravitas in return.
Adamma Ebo and her producer sister, Adanne, drew upon their experiences growing up in a megachurch environment.
During a Jan. 24 Blavity TV interview with Trey Mangum, Adamma says, “The inspiration came from an area of critique and an area of love, where this culture is meaningful and could be and should be doing better.”
No question, the Ebo sisters make daring, valiant noise with “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.”
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Written and directed by: Adamma Ebo
Starring: Sterling K. Brown, Regina Hall, Nicole Beharie, Conphidance, and Austin Crute
Runtime: 102 minutes