The Best Man Holiday (2013) / Comedy-Drama
MPAA Rated: R for language, sexual content and brief nudity
Running Time: 123 min.
Cast: Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Monica Calhoun, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau, Sanaa Lathan, Melissa De Sousa, Nia Long, Regina Hall, Eddie Cibrian
Small role: John Michael Higgins, Eddie George, Greg Gumbel, Pam Oliver
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Screenplay: Malcolm D. Lee
Review published November 17, 2013
The Best Man Holiday is a sequel to the minor 1999 hit, The Best Man. Most viewers will be surprised that the original film, which grossed a modest $34 million, would not only garner a sequel, but would also wait 14 years in order to do so. If you haven't seen it, rest easy. You don't have to watch the original film in order to understand The Best Man Holiday (though knowledge of the original's existence is necessary in understanding the title given this follow-up has no wedding), though being in on some of the minor in-jokes and nostalgic references will no doubt enhance the experience.
The premise is that a group of lifelong friends are gathering together in order to celebrate the the days leading up to Christmas. Taye Diggs (Baggage Claim, Rent) gets the top share of screen time as Harper, a novelist who has had trouble of late repeating the his early success, and finds himself in a do-or-die comeback situation when he is laid off from his gig as an instructor at NYU, especially now that his pregnant wife Robyn (Lathan, Something New) is due any day now. Harper gets a tip that his best bet for another best seller is to write a biography on estranged friend Lance (Chestnut, Kick-Ass 2), an NFL superstar on the verge of breaking the all-time rushing yards record. But Harp can barely get a hello from Lance, much less consent, as he is not only holding a grudge, but is also adamant about his desire to keep his private life private, especially when it is discovered that beloved wife Mia (Calhoun, "Diary of a Single Mom") is ill, perhaps terminally.
Other, more minor, storylines include Julian's (Perrineau, Snitch) difficulty getting funding for his private school when one of his donor's shows him evidence of his former-stripper wife Candy's (Hall, Superhero Movie) youthful dabbling in prostitution, reality TV star Shelby's (De Sousa, Laurel Canyon) sexual prowess, Jordan's (Long, Are We Done Yet?) new, white-skinned beau (Cibrian, The Cave), and Quentin's (Howard, Prisoners) inability to grow into adulthood.
As this is an ensemble piece about friends who've known each other for decades, the key to making The Best Man Holiday work is the strength of the chemistry among the cast, who must not only be believable in terms of themselves and how they behave in their own relationships, but they also share a history with seven other friends, each with his or her own separate dynamic to the other characters. In this regard, the film achieves a certain success, as writer-director-creator Malcolm D. Lee (Undercover Brother, Scary Movie V) knows these characters inside and out, and gives each actor plenty of depth to work with. It's also to its benefit that the cast of actors have been able to maintain their quality acting chops over the years, as well as their big-screen attractiveness.
To its detriment, the film adheres to the ensemble dramedy formula, where people bicker and make up, find new romances, and experience both joy and tragedy to make the characters appreciate that, despite their petty differences, they're stronger together than they are apart. Lee isn't above going for too-cute moments, such as an impromptu lip-synch routine in which the men of the group, wearing matching ensembles, entertain the ladies in perfectly synchronized fashion to New Edition's "Can you Stand the Rain?". Another scene sees a hackneyed attempt at motivation for Lance that includes him taking an unprecedented cell phone call from Mia while on the sidelines of a big game to get him in the right frame of mind. And, as with most contrived holiday ensemble features, all of the many differences appear to resolve themselves on Christmas Day, and most in the manner you'd expect.
However, the strength of Lee's characterizations and the charismatic cast make up for the sitcom-worthy humor and manufactured drama enough to entertain despite its inherent predictability. At over two hours, it is a bit on the long side, which had been the case with the original film as well, but, while the film has a few excisable elements, it doesn't have any extended lulls either. Lee manages to keep the balance right. It might be a superfluous, belated sequel to a film many people have forgotten about, but The Best Man Holiday delivers a rehash that will please old fans, and garner a few new ones. The film sets up for an intended third movie, which, given the lucrative success of African-American films of late at the box office, will likely be green-lit long before another 14 years pass.
©2013 Vince Leo