Sterling K. Brown stars as Lee-Curtis Childs in "Honk for...

Sterling K. Brown stars as Lee-Curtis Childs in "Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul." Credit: Pinky Promise LLC/Focus Features /Steve Swisher

PLOT A pastor and his wife attempt to reopen a church following a scandal.

CAST Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown, Nicole Beharie

RATED R (adult themes and language)


WHERE Area theaters and streaming on Peacock

BOTTOM LINE An uneven but engrossing comedy-drama in a mockumentary format.

Imagine “Best in Show,” “Waiting for Guffman” or any of Christopher Guest’s improvised mockumentaries, only centered on a Black megachurch in Atlanta that has been rocked by a sex scandal. That’s the basic gist of “Honk for Jesus. Save Your Soul,” but this farcical comedy also comes with a serious undercurrent of anger and pain.

That’s a tricky balancing act, one the movie’s first-time feature filmmakers don't always manage gracefully. The writer-director, Adamma Ebo, and her sister, producer Adanne Ebo — Nigerian-American identical twins who operate professionally as The Ebo Twins — certainly know their material: They grew up Southern Baptist in Atlanta and can remember real examples of pastors who abused their power. That may explain why “Honk for Jesus” isn’t willing to play only for laughs.

The movie is blessed with two great stars in Sterling K. Brown (“This Is Us”), who plays the theatrical Pastor Lee-Curtis Childs, and Regina Hall (“Think Like a Man”), as his wife, Trinitie. They run the Wander to Greater Paths church, where the gospel of prosperity has brought them a sprawling mansion, sports cars and a closetful of Prada. “Don’t it look like I been favoring the Lord?” Lee-Curtis crows on the pulpit, flapping his purple suit lapels. Trinitie, known to parishioners as “First Lady,” spends her time pondering her shoe collection and shopping for $2,000 hats.

The Wander church, thanks to its wandering pastor, has fallen into disgrace when a documentary film crew (its director is spoken to but never seen) arrives to chronicle the Childs’ attempts to reopen on Easter Sunday. The odds are long: Nearly their entire flock has decamped to a crosstown rival, Heaven’s Home, run by the youthful, dewy-eyed Sumptors (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance). What’s more, the Sumptors are planning their grand opening the very same day. In desperation, the Childs turn to roadside sign-waving (hence the film’s title) and a bizarre attention-getting act called “praise-mime.”

The film’s mildly wacky humor is undercut, however, by darkness: It turns out that Lee-Curtis has had affairs with several young men even while publicly railing against “the homosexual agenda.” His hypocrisy, and his personal torment, are sensitively and intelligently rendered, but such moments sit awkwardly amid the otherwise lighthearted comedy. At the same time, those moments are what make this film so interesting. Whatever the Ebo Twins do next, it will almost certainly be worth watching.

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