Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul. (R) ★★½

Review Date: September 1st, 2022

Televangelism and those who practice the dubious form of money-driven religiosity represent low-hanging fruit when it comes to satire. A lot of the material – Jimmy Swaggert crying crocodile tears, the eyes of Tammy Faye, etc.- comes across as self-parody so it doesn't take much exaggeration to create a comedy from the real-life incidents. With Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul, that's the mission statement of the Ebo Twins (director Adamma and her sister, producer Adanne). Based on a short film Adamma made in 2018, the movie lacks a strong narrative and none of the characters escapes from their caricature molds. However, there are still things to like about Honk for Jesus, not the least of which are the performances of leads Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown.

Borrowing a page out of the Christopher Guest book of mockumentaries, Ebo presents the story through the lens of a woman who's chronicling the attempts of Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown) and his wife and chief enabler, Trinitie (Hall), to recover in the wake of a sex scandal that whittled their once-enormous congregation down to five faithful members. Unlike Best in Show, however, Honk for Jesus doesn't show affection for the subjects of its satire. Ebo deluges the Childs in derision with the most scathing shower reserved for the clueless, deluded Lee-Curtis. Meanwhile, Trinitie can't get enough of playing the victim card. Admittedly, she has been done wrong by the man she married but there's validity to the cliché about making one's bed and lying in it.

Once, the Wander the Greater Path Baptist Church was one of the best-attended megachurches in the Atlanta area. Then it all came crashing down when the pastor's indiscretions with boys became public knowledge, causing attendance to crater and forcing "First Lady" Trinitie into full "stand by your man" mode. Their marriage survived but it's apparent their attempts to "reboot" the church are doomed to failure. Honk for Jesus is a depiction of a trainwreck in slow-motion.

The core premise of Honk for Jesus is solid but there's not enough there to fill out a feature-length film. To pad things out, Ebo brings in a variety of supporting characters. Most don't leave an impression. The pair that does – rival ministers Shakura and Keon Sumpter (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance) – prove in some ways to be more interesting than the leads. The few glimpses we have of these two, whose Heaven's House megachurch has blossomed after inheriting many of Wander the Greater Path's former congregants, causes us to wonder whether we're seeing sincere preachers or mirror images of Lee-Curtis and Trinitie from their early days.

Honk for Jesus should find favor with those evincing a jaundiced perspective toward the so-called "prosperity gospel" that is pushed by many megachurches to both in-person and broadcast audiences. The movie dissects the rot and hypocrisy underlying the goals and aspirations of Lee-Childs. Although the film attempts to humanize Trinitie by showing glimpses of a conscience and the internal conflicts resulting from it, she never escapes the low-orbit of two-dimensionality in which she exists. Lee-Childs is thoroughly dislikable with no redeeming qualities. Yet, although he might seem too vile to be real, it doesn't take much reflection to recognize how close he is to more than one fallen televangelist.

After an energetic and promising first half-hour, Honk for Jesus loses steam as it plods along. By the final 15-20 minutes, the stars, whose performances never flag, become the only reasons to keep watching. The ending is preordained and the characters aren't sufficiently real to maintain viewer engagement. (There's a growing sense of frustration waiting for Trinitie to explode as she continues to be buried in the collateral damage of her husband's bad choices and worse actions.) The movie is at times funny, at times blistering, and at times insightful, but it lacks consistency, thereby arguing that perhaps the short film that provided its basis offered a better length.

© 2022 James Berardinelli