Profiting off religion is why the polarizing subject gets so much hate. People taking gospel or a bible and bringing people together under the false pretenses that they are being “saved” or helped by their presence. All the while, they reach into their bank account and find their own lives thriving off the devotion, aka donations from the congregation.
For Trinitie Childs (Regina Hall), it’s both the diamond and the clutch that is eating away at her life. Her pastor-husband, Lee-Curtis (Sterling K. Brown), has destroyed their prosperous Mega Church with a sexual misconduct scandal, closing their doors and turning everybody against them. Adamma Ebo’s “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” drops us directly into their comeback tour with little information about what made them so incredible and popular in the first place.
Expanding off their short film, Ebo (which includes twin sister writer/director team, Adamma and Adanne) paint us a picture of religion on a corporate level on a comedic level. We have no idea what Lee-Curtis actually did to bring on the scandal (details are scant here), but the audience sees him making settlements out of court one-by-one so the stink isn’t hard to detect. He’s relaunching his church with his First Lady of the Church, Trinitie, by his side. Little does he know that she is coming apart, slowly but surely, at the seams. A “mockumentary” crew filming their comeback doesn’t help matters much.
A lack of focus doesn’t help “Honk for Jesus.” This is a film that is trying to say something meaningful about deep issues while going for laughs at the same time. I didn’t know whether I should love, root for, despise, or feel indifferent towards Lee-Curtis and Trinitie. The backstory on their prior success is documented in awkward confrontations with their former congregation, which is all picked up by the film crew. It’s the movie where the fourth wall is bent without being broken, even if the effort is carefully witnessed by the audience.
Brown and Hall go for it hard in their roles, giving the faces of a crumbling empire entertaining personas that keep you hanging with their flight (or plight?) to the very end. But the end comes and it’s a dud. A dud as in being dull and forgettable, and not doing much for the 2.5 acts that came before it. By not seeing any of their earlier years or getting a real feel for what LC did to get them in such hot water, the reason to care about what happens to them diminishes by the time the Ebo sisters’ film decides to try and wrap things up.
The end of this movie feels like the end of a television season that leaves you with a cliffhanger. The difference is that the answer will eventually come in the next season. “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul” plays out like that show that didn’t get another season, not that I wanted more time with this troubling duo. When you’re not screaming at Trinitie to run away from Lee’s petulant behavior, you’re screaming at Ebo’s screenplay to give us a clue. A clue about the subplot involving the younger congregation opening up a Mega Church in the same neighborhood, or the bridled relationship between Trinitie and her mother.
All I got were crumbs about those things and their value in the overall story. Crumbs involving certain younger members of the congregation sharing tense moments with Lee-Curtis, giving some idea of his actions. But little of it lands, or helps cement the movie’s value. It was like being at a party where I knew the players and setup but none of the humor was landing for me, and I wondered if there was something more coming. Watching the events of “Honk for Jesus” unfold is like watching a meandering documentary that you hold interest in due to the players, yet are left wondering what you just watched after it’s over.
I don’t fault the players. Brown and Hall are great and enrich the material, but they fall victim to a thin screenplay. An uncomfortable scene in the bedroom and a moment of (less clothed) catharsis are carried by the “This Is Us” actor, even if he seems a little lost in Lee-Curtis’ struggle. Hall gets her own thunder late in the movie, even if her character spends most of the film apologetic. It’s the world they’re in that looks bland and uninteresting. Most of what’s going to happen in the movie has happened or been determined, so there’s little to stay up for outside of more humiliation. The audience gets to see the fallout of a scandal from behind the scenes, and it’s not that interesting. Even worse, it wasn’t even that funny.
Rating: See it for Brown and Hall going for broke, but you don’t have to rush.