Adamma Ebo’s Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul. concentrates on a mission to atone while the screenplay can’t always find a tone of its own. A comedy that wants to dive deeper into its themes, it is served by two dynamic lead turns from Regina Hall and Sterling K. Brown. The inconsistency doesn’t always serve them.
Adapting her own short film, Soul struggles to account for its feature length. The concept is simple. Lee-Curtis Childs (Brown) is the pastor of a once booming Southern Baptist megachurch. Wife Trinitie (Hall) is The First Lady. Numerous scandals involving Lee-Curtis’s relationships with young males have dwindled the membership from hundreds to a mere handful. A documentary crew is present to chronicle either a resurrection or their final downfall as they are planning an Easter comeback service.
Will anyone show up? Competition is fierce as another couple (Conphidance and Nicole Beharie) are planning the debut of a rival location on the same Sunday. Many former congregants seem likely to jump ship as Lee-Curtis and Trinitie are desperate to maintain some of them.
In the beginning stages, Honk seems inspired by Christopher Guest’s acclaimed mockumentaries. It doesn’t fully commit to that format in the way that his best works did. A tone in the more serious range rises as it goes along. Lee-Curtis must confront a victim (Austin Crute) who won’t settle like the others and Trinitie must confront their troubled marriage.
The decadence of their lifestyle is the focus of the satire and it makes the Childs an easy and familiarly covered target. The actors playing them almost make this worthwhile anyway. Hall and Brown both have emotional monologues that showcase their power. It’s a testament to their performances that we think legions of their parishioners might turn back up. Trinitie, especially, is a character that could’ve been fascinating given her tortured connection with her potentially irredeemable spouse. She needed more substance than she’s granted. I have no doubt Hall would have excelled at fleshing her out.
One running joke is about how the documentary’s director (never seen) won’t say anything despite prodding from her subjects. Honk‘s maker Ebo, who wrote this expansion, gives voice to a promising premise that feels unfulfilled. It seems like it has plenty to say and never quite settles on how to say it all.
**1/2 (out of four)