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Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. Movie Review

Three Thousand Years of Longing (2022) movie poster
Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

Theatrical Release: September 2, 2022 / Running Time: 98 Minutes / Rating: R

Director: Adamma Ebo / Writer: Adammo Ebo (screenplay & short)story)

Cast: Regina Hall (Trinite Childs), Sterling K. Brown (Lee-Curtis Childs), Nicole Beharie (Shakura Sumpter), Conphidance (Keon Sumpter), Austin Crute (Khalil), Devere Rogers (Basil), Avis Marie Barnes (Sabina), Robert Yatta (Deacon Alastor Culpepper), Greta Marable Glenn (Deaconess Culpepper), Selah K imbro Jones (Aria Devaughn), Crystal Alicia Garrett (Sapphire Devaughn)

 

By Luke Bonanno

Jordan Peele and Daniel Kaluuya teamed up for one of this summer's biggest movies in the warmly-reviewed, well-performing sci-fi thriller Nope.
The two collaborators also number among the producers of one of summer's smallest movies, the dark comedy Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul.

The feature debut of writer-director Adamma Ebo, who adapts her 15-minute 2018 short of the same name, Honk looks at an Atlanta Baptist megachurch plotting to reopen and rebuild its congregation after shutting down in scandal.

Actors Sterling K. Brown and Regina Hall play Pastor Lee-Curtis and First Lady Trinitie Childs, the married couple that runs Wander to Greater Paths. Like the most successful of megachurches, theirs flourished to great personal gain. But, a number of incidents involving the Pastor and barely or not quite legal male congregants led to backlash, mass exodus, and temporary closure. All of this benefitted the competition, specifically a fellow church that has welcomed record attendance levels with open arms.

First Lady Trinitie (Regina Hall) and Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Sterling K. Brown) are all smiles as they try to revive their disgraced Baptist megachurch in the black comedy "Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul."

A documentary crew tags along with Lee-Curtis and Trinitie as they try to spread the word of their church's reopening and restore its sullied reputation. Ebo employs the mockumentary format to good effect. Honk for Jesus is frequently entertaining in ways comparable to the similarly themed HBO comedy series "The Righteous Gemstones." But the filmmaker abandons the format well into the film, resulting in something inexplicably and indefensively uneven.

That's no fault of the leads, two actors who have put in years of good work and are now being rewarded with the lead roles and recognition they both deserve. Brown, well-known to TV viewers for NBC's "This Is Us" and great in 2019's little-seen A24 flick Waves, is particularly committed and explosive, playing this force of contradiction with precision and energy.

The screenplay can't sustain the comic energy with which it opens, though, as amusing glimpses at the couple trying on over-the-top designer outfits for their big Easter Sunday comeback give way to the pained secrets they clearly haven't yet worked through. The uncomfortable humor hits many of its intended marks, but in a way that's tough to warm to and not easy to make sense of.

Sterling K. Brown gives a spirited performance as Lee-Curtis Childs, an Atlanta megachurch pastor trying to rebound from scandal in "Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul."

Is Ebo making fun of the megachurch community, shameless self-promoters, men denying their homosexuality? Probably all of the above and they all seem like reasonable targets for satire. But no matter how good the principal actors are -- and they for sure elevate this above the short film from which multiple beats are directly taken -- they can't turn this into a particularly rewarding or enjoyable comedy.
Even at a fairly average feature length of 98 minutes, Ebo doesn't have enough time to give these characters complexities for us to warm to them or want them to redeem themselves. Their embarrassment is simply put on display and it's tough to find pleasure in the pain of others, even when the others are affluent hypocrites and insincere predators.

No matter how respected and accomplished the actors and producers attached here are, this will likely struggle to find an appreciative audience, even while being made available for Peacock subscribers to stream in tandem with its theatrical opening. That is unfortunate for a first-time director, but clearly Ebo has won over enough important people to earn their faith and I suspect she will return with something better.

Related Reviews:
Now in Theaters: Three Thousand Years of Longing Nope Beast | Now Streaming: Pinocchio Thor: Love & Thunder
Sterling K. Brown: Waves Army Wives: The Complete First Season | Regina Hall: Support the Girls Master

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Reviewed September 2, 2022.



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