Do you know what was great about Malcolm D. Lee’s 1999 directorial debut, “The Best Man”? Everything.
Fourteen years later, there’s not much that’s great about the sequel, “The Best Man Holiday.” But there are a lot of good things, and a few things that aren’t so good.
As a quick primer, the film begins with a montage of clips from the first film and various scenes of things that have happened since. Harper (Taye Diggs) has found success as a writer and is now a professor at NYU. His wife, Robyn, (Sanaa Lathan) has become a famous chef. Jordan (Nia Long) is now a big-shot TV news executive and is dating Brian (new to the cast Eddie Cibrian). Morris Chestnut’s Lance is about to become the NFL’s all-time leading rusher, while Harold Perrineau’s Julian runs a private school, and Shelby (Melissa De Souza) has become a reality TV star on “The Real Housewives of Westchester.” Terrence Howard, who had the breakout performance in the first movie, is still in fine form here. His Quentin, or Q, now runs a successful branding service and is at his best when antagonizing his buddies.
While the opening montage showed Harper having success, turns out it’s been a few years since he’s had a best-selling book and nobody wants to buy his current manuscript. Making things worse, he’s lost his job at NYU and Robyn is about give birth. As if that’s not enough, director Lee decides to pile on Harper and Robyn by giving them a history of infertility. Harper’s publisher implores him to exploit his relationship with Lance by writing his biography: a challenge, to say the least, since Harper and Lance haven’t been on good terms for years — but there’s an opportunity for him to make things right.
Lance’s wife, Mia, (Monica Calhoun) has invited the entire group of college friends over to the house for Christmas weekend, which is also the same weekend Lance may break the NFL rushing record. Can Harper work up the courage to ask his former best friend to let him write his biography, or will he write an unauthorized version because he’s just that desperate for money?
What ensues is a contrivance of forced conflicts that are only entertaining because of this cast’s tremendous talent and charm.
As a fan of the first movie, The Best Man Holiday isn’t the sequel I expected. Lee forces these fantastic characters into an imaginary, superficial ideal that seems counterproductive; most of them are straight-up archetypes with no real substance. This isn’t to say that you won’t be moved or you won’t laugh — you will — but not often enough, given the movie’s 102-minute run time. The Best Man Holiday simply doesn’t know what it wants to be and doesn’t have anything important to say. In this case, just being entertaining will have to do.
Three out of five stars.