Most sequels tend to strike while the proverbial iron is hot or at least while the original film is still part of the pop culture zeitgeist. There are exceptions of course (Tron: Legacy, The Color of Money), but the general rule is the sooner the better. Writer/director Malcolm D. Lee has little interest in rules, well, this one at least, and he’s finally delivered the long-awaited sequel to 1999′s The Best Man.
It’s the holiday season (we know this because characters receive invites to a get-together planned for that not-at-all specific date), and nine friends are reuniting for the first time in a long time. Some are married and some are dating, some are wealthy and some are struggling, some are healthy and some aren’t, but what they all share in common is a desire to reconnect this holiday season. When? This holiday season.
The Best Man Holiday is a Christmas-set ensemble romantic comedy, but it’s aiming for more than just a Love Actually riff and wraps its story and characters in themes of faith, family, and fornication (just not always in that order). Unfortunately far too much of it falls flat through contrived and obvious story turns and an inordinate amount of cheesiness. Thank god for Terrence Howard.
“This doesn’t feel like Christmas to me.”
Don’t worry if you’ve forgotten the events of the first film (or if you’ve never even seen it). It’s been fourteen years after all, and Lee wisely opens the follow-up with a montage filled with old and new footage to bring us all up to speed. Basically the gist is that Harper (Taye Diggs) has slept with far too many of his female friends. This not only includes his best friend Jordan (Nia Long), but also Mia (Monica Calhoun), who was engaged to Lance (Morris Chestnut) at the time. Lance has never forgiven him, but Harper is now happily married to Robyn (Sanaa Lathan).
Lance is a star running-back in the NFL, and it’s his and Mia’s home that hosts the holiday gathering. Also along for the reunion are Julian (Harold Perrineau) and his wife Candace (Regina Hall), the vamp Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) who’s currently starring on “The Real Housewives of Westchester,” Quentin (Howard) the happy bachelor, and Jordan’s boyfriend Brian (Eddie Cibrian).
Each character has their own subplot of sorts including Julian’s discovery of a scandalous YouTube video from his wife’s long-ago career as a stripper, Robyn’s pregnancy and insecurities about Harper’s past loves, and more. In addition to his numerous past dalliances and impending fatherhood, Harper’s also an author who hasn’t had a bestseller since his semi-autobiographical novel about his friends’ early days. Pushed by his agent (John Michael Higgins) to coax Lance into letting him write his biography, Harper’s financial situation leaves him few options.
For as many characters and plot threads there are Lee does an admirable job weaving them into a cohesive whole. No one feels shorted of screentime, and everyone gets to partake in both the comedic and dramatic events occurring between them. There’s an energy to the film too which keeps interest and attention up as it moves from beat to beat. Sadly though those beats are far too familiar and often telegraphed well in advance. Lee’s script feels compelled to follow formula at every turn meaning we know exactly what to expect in most scenes leaving us well ahead of the characters themselves.
Worse, too many of the film’s conflicts are straight out of the Three’s Company playbook. Characters consistently walk in on each other at perfectly inopportune times, misconceptions are allowed to fester due to inexplicable silence, and they even accidentally swap phones (with incriminating videos on the home screen no less) leading to even more hijinks.
The film’s tone bounces around from the highly comedic to the melodramatic, but while it seems to have a fairly good handle on the transitions there are a few moments that don’t quite work. Most of them occur in the third act, but can someone explain the early catfight sound to me? It appears out of nowhere at the revelation of a feud between two of the ladies, but it’s an audio aside more suited for a Naked Gun film than here.
The cast is the film’s biggest asset as just about everyone brings their A-game. It’s an ensemble, but Diggs has the closest thing to a leading role and his charisma and charm are operating on full. It’s not all adorable smiles though as he also delivers when it counts during one of the film’s most legitimately dramatic and honest scenes. Calhoun, Long, and Lathan get to stretch their dramatic muscles too, and all manage quite well. But above them all sits Howard delivering the kind of performance that nearly makes everything else forgivable and makes you wish he was in a dozen more movies this year. He’s sly, smooth, and a hilariously bright North star guiding the way to the best scenes of this particular holiday tale.
The Best Man Holiday offers some laughs and fewer tears, but both are frequently interrupted by a script prone to making amateur moves and sticking too rigidly to expectations. That said, Howard almost single-handedly makes the film worth seeing. Does that qualify as a Christmas miracle? It’s not on par with scoring the game-winning touchdown, but it’ll do.
The Upside: Terrence Howard; some laughs and moments that tease emotion
The Downside: Simplistic and contrived script; too many head-shaking bits; the prioritization of prayers seems a bit off; feels a bit long
On the Side: I was excited for a few minutes when I thought I had coined “Love Blactually,” but of course I was well-beaten to the punch. Damn you Seth MacFarlane, damn you!