Movie Review: Honk For Jesus/Save Your Soul

One of the things I often complain about are movie titles. I remember as a kid reading a book about films, and seeing that the year I was born, there was a movie called They Shoot Horses, Don’t They? Both an intriguing title, and an annoying one. I wondered why anyone would title a movie with a sentence. But that title works brilliantly. A few years ago, my wife and I both loved the title of the movie Don’t Worry; He Won’t Get Far on Foot, especially when you see how it comes up in the film.

What bothers me about the title of this, is that Honk for Jesus is perfect. Why did it have to be two sentences? Another thing that bothers me is, this is based on the 15 minute short film, and that’s probably how it should have stayed, as it’s a bit long and repetitive. Now, that doesn’t mean this satire doesn’t have some really great moments. How could it not, with these two leads? Just watching Regina Hall give off these facial expressions is almost worth the price of admission. Since it’s filmed in a mockumentary style (think movies like Spinal Tap, or TV shows like The Office and Modern Family), when Trinitie Childs (Hall) is asked a question she doesn’t like, or runs into an old friend in a mall, she puts on this fake smile that is just wonderful. Those smiles are also framed nicely with a gaudy bonnet.

Now, let’s talk about her co-star Sterling K. Brown. My wife has loved him since This Is Us. I loved him in Waves (one of the best movies of 2019), as the overbearing father. I also love that the few times we’ve talked to him at the Critics’ Choice Awards, he couldn’t have been nicer. He would be a shoe-in for an Oscar nomination for this role as the leader of a Megachurch, had this been a better script. It just doesn’t quite pull off the dance between satire and serious. It also doesn’t really pack the emotional punch filmmaker Adamma Ebo was going for (although it’s certainly a strong debut feature).

There’s a really funny scene where Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown) and Trinitie are showing off their expensive clothing and justifying all the luxurious items they have. Especially since we’ve all heard about these things when it comes to people like Joel Olsteen, Jim and Tammy Faye Bakker, and the different megachurches. 

Another humorous scene involves the Childs’ singing a hardcore rap song (Knuck if you Buck by Crime Mob) in their SUV. Something about religious folks singing that tune was interesting (much like the nerdy white guy singing hardcore rap in his car at the beginning of Office Space). Yet to make this a truly great satire, a lot more funny moments were needed. When they try to delve into the drama, it loses a bit.

We learn early on that a sexual misconduct scandal has rocked the church and they’re trying to get back on their feet and rebuild the congregation. His hubris keeps him blaming others, and his wife puts Hillary Clinton and Huma Abedin to shame by standing by her man through all this. But hey – she likes this lifestyle she’s grown accustomed to. Yet when she runs into people that express their dismay, you wonder just how long this will last.

Ebo really needed to give us a lot more. The movie is long and repetitive, and feels like the 15 minute short it was based on, was probably enough to tell this story. When I was 20, I wrote a screenplay about a Christian heavy metal band that were really just a metal band that did drugs, slept with groupies, and didn’t care about Jesus or any of that. They just did what made them money. So stories about these types of people have been done and are low hanging fruit. Ebo needed to bring something a tad different or a bit more interesting, to the table. Perhaps the Ebo twins who made this movie thought that having a Southern church, with African-Americans, was a bit different. It is interesting how the idea of religion can be a positive in certain communities. Perhaps more should have been done in that direction. 

When we learn a new Baptist church is popping up in Atlanta, Heaven’s House, and many of their flock will be going there – we meet the young, married ministers (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance) running the place. They plan to open on Easter Sunday, the same day the Childs had planned their big resurrection. When the movie ended, I had a few too many questions about them. Were they sincere in how they feel about religion? Were they just a younger version of the Childs that we just watched? I would have liked more clarification on that.

There’s a fun dialogue bit about a broken toe healing in 48 hours being a miracle; a funny acronym for what EGO means (edging God out); the passive-aggressive run-in with a former congregant (Olivia D. Dawson)...shows us what a brilliant film this could have been. I’d love to see Hall and Brown nominated for Oscars, as well as Lorraine Coppin for her costume design (I’m assuming she created those vibrant bonnets). 

2 ½ stars out of 5.

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