[Screen It]


(2022) (Regina Hall, Sterling K. Brown) (R)

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Comedy: A documentary film crew chronicles a disgraced pastor and his wife's attempts at reviving their mega-church and associated rich lifestyle.

At one point, Atlanta's Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church was a mega-successful, mega-church with more than 25,000 congregants. Nowadays, though, they're down to just five after allegations of sexual misconduct with young men leveled against pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (STERLING K. BROWN) sent everyone else fleeing.

Now, with Easter approaching, the disgraced pastor is planning on a career revival with the somewhat shaky support of his wife, Trinitie (REGINA HALL), who's still enjoying the upper-class spoils and high life of financial success as the church's "first lady."

With their every moment followed and recorded by a documentary film crew, they try to resurrect their status and church but must contend with Shakura (NICOLE BEHARIE) and Keon Sumpter (CONPHIDANCE) whose growing Heavens House Baptist Church has supplanted their place in the hearts, minds, and souls of the churchgoing locals.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10

One of my favorite subgenre forms of comedy in both film and television is the mockumentary. As the name suggests, it's an offering that mocks -- usually in a loving fashion to one degree or another, and thus hopefully elicits laughs -- documentary filmmaking or at least the subjects that appear in such offerings.

Examples from TV include "The Office" and "Modern Family," while films are far more numerous including the likes of "This is Spinal Tap," "The Gods Must Be Crazy," "Best in Show," "Bob Roberts" and so on and so on.

Most but not all feature the characters talking directly to the camera explaining the footage we've seen or will see where they've been captured in all of their day-to-day glory, infamy, or some combination thereof.

Any topic is pretty much game to be mocked, and if there's a prime example of low-hanging fruit over a barrel of fish with a gun nearby, it's religious hypocrisy, especially on the mega level. As in a mega-church where the pastor has raked in the dough partially from condemning a lifestyle in which he secretly engages.

Such was the case with the late Bishop Eddie L. Long and his New Birth Missionary Baptist Church that blew up both in congregant size and then following lawsuits over allegations of sexual misconduct and coercion involving young men.

That inspired siblings Adamma Ebo and Adanne Ebo to shoot the 2018 short film "Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul" that poked fun -- mockumentary style -- at Long, his scandal, and all the hypocrisy that came along for the ride. In turn, that 15-minute short has now been elongated into a feature-length film of the same name.

And what worked as a short feels like a "Saturday Night Live" skit stretched to the breaking point in this 100 or so-minute offering that wears out its welcome, well, not long after the 15 minute mark when we quickly realize there's not much to this one-note takedown.

The plot -- of what little there is as written and directed by Adamma -- revolves around fictitious pastor Lee-Curtis Childs (a decidedly buff Sterling K. Brown) and his "first lady" wife, Trinitie (Regina Hall), who still live the high life -- and then some -- thanks to the tax-free donations from the 25,000-plus congregants of their Wander to Greater Paths Baptist Church in Atlanta.

But now that number is down to just five, all due to a sexual allegation scandal -- that's slowly but overly predictably revealed -- and which made everyone flee for the hills. Or in this case, an upstart rival church run by the Sumpters (Nicole Beharie and Conphidance). With the revival season of Easter just a month away, the Childs are looking to revive their church -- not to mention the financial spigot that comes with it -- and, well, that's about it for the plot.

The humor is supposed to stem not only from their hypocrisy (including cursing like drunken sailors) but also in showing their outrageous financial lifestyle and trappings -- they have huge gold chairs that make them look like monarchs, along with a shoe collection that would make the Kardashians blush -- but a little of that goes a long way. Okay, it really doesn't as we quickly get the point that's then repeated over and over and -- did I mention over -- again to the point that repetition and boredom grow in reverse proportion to the laughs.

I'm all for satirizing and knocking down such hypocrites a notch or two -- or as many as it takes -- but this feels like a 15-minute film that should have maintained that length and leaves its otherwise charismatic stars left high and dry trying to eke something out of material that simply can't sustain them or the film. As a result, "Honk For Jesus. Save Your Soul" ends up rating as a fairly boring, flat, and monotonous 4 out of 10.

Posted September 2, 2022

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