"Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul." stars Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Austin Crute, and Nicole Beharie. Released on September 2, 2022, the film has a religious couple attempting to rebuild their congregation following a scandal.
The film featured the directorial debut of Adamma Ebo, and it is based on the 2018 short film of the same name by Ebo. Everyone loves a great comeback story, especially when it involves someone redeeming themselves. This one, in particular, is something that will have them praising the Lord. Labor Day is the kind of holiday where we take a break from watching movies to spend quality time with our loved ones and prepare for the school year. That's what I've been doing throughout the weekend (minus the school preparations), but that doesn't mean I can't squeeze a film review or two into my schedule. Sadly, there's only one new major film released during that weekend. But on the bright side, it allows me to catch up on the ones I missed out on, but that's for another day. This movie got me speculating on whether to see it or not despite the two main actors on board and Daniel Kaluuya's involvement as one of its producers. Fortunately, I eventually made my decision after watching its trailer and discovering that it's releasing both in theaters and on Peacock. Since I didn't have the time to see the movie in the theater, I decided to go for plan B and watch it on Peacock instead. So was this latest comedy something that'll have us screaming "hallelujah"? Let's find out.
The story follows a couple running a successful Southern Baptist megachurch. Trinitie Childs (Hall) is the first lady of the church working alongside her husband, Paster Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown), to share their religious beliefs with thousands of people. Unfortunately, their religion eventually winds up in danger when a scandal involving Lee-Curtis forces their church to close temporarily. With a documentary crew in tow, Trinitie and Lee-Curtis will have to go through several methods to redeem their misfortune and rebuild their organized religion by Easter Sunday.
The movie is described as a satiric representation of organized religion with some social commentary on sexual misconduct from church workers, especially pastors. It represents how a toxic relationship in a church environment affects the success and personal lifestyles of those with religious beliefs. It also has the essence of a mockumentary, in which a film crew records Trinitie and Lee-Curtis's methods in reopening their church. The first thing to know about "Honk for Jesus" is that it's advertised as a fun comedy showcasing the characters' amusing ways to get back on top. However, the final cut shows that it isn't the case. While it has some humorous moments, it's more of a satirical drama showcasing the downfall of the religious relationship between Trinitie and Lee-Curtis, not just their church. It's one of the cases of false advertising, which could affect the overall project based on the execution. Unfortunately for me, the movie doesn't have something to make this trick work, leading to an experience that's far from praiseworthy.
The primary thing that hurt the film was its sense of identity. I can understand what it's trying to say regarding its themes and storytelling. However, writer/director Adamma Ebo didn't clearly know how to say it. In other words, the movie doesn't know what it wants to be. Was it supposed to be a comedy, a drama in the form of a mockumentary, or both? If it doesn't have a clue, I don't have a clue, either. Because of that, I was having a difficult time getting attached to the movie in a metaphorical and entertainment sense.
Even when it does attempt to provide some humor and provocative drama, it often comes off as flat or restrained. It's easy to see that poking fun at serious topics, including toxic marriages in church, is very challenging nowadays. We want to make people laugh, but we also don't want to anger those who are sensitive to these jokes. "Honk for Jesus" provides some comedic bits that stray from being over-the-top and overly tasteless in favor of shock value. The problem is that they didn't work for me. It's dry, awkward, and demeaning, but not in a way that makes me want to laugh and point fingers at the scenarios. The dramatic elements shown had more promise compared to the humor since they aren't afraid to showcase the dark side of the religious community. However, they came off as subpar and even disorganized with the movie's satire.
The only saving graces that lifted the film's spirits were the main leads. Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown did a great job making their chemistry more engaging than the overall story. Hall successfully manifests a loving wife on the verge of uncertainty and mental madness while "supporting" her husband, with the third act being one of the best moments in her career. As for Sterling K. Brown, the "This Is Us" actor's turn as the sexually abusive pastor continues to prove his undeniable talent on the big screen that should not be ignored. Nicole Beharie and Conphidance also turned in good performances as Shakura and Keon Sumpter, another pastoral couple working to open their own church on Easter Sunday.
Overall, "Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul." is a satire with plenty to say about the toxic church environment. However, it's also a bland and humorless representation that's more disorganized than organized religion. The main leads gave it their all as the troubling church duo, but the film's poor execution in its tone and script makes this one of the most disappointing experiences I've seen this year. It's surprising to see how heavily divisive the movie turned out, with critics liking it more than the audiences, possibly due to its topics and the audience's expectations. It's even more surprising that my viewpoint on the film aligns with what the audience is saying. It did what it could to address this distasteful topic as a satire, and I appreciate it for doing so. But in the end, the final result wound up as something that's not my cup of tea.