Malcolm D. Lee’s comedy The Best Man was only a modest hit when it came out in 1999, but it was the best-known of a surge of movies from that time about African-Americans leading ordinary middle-class lives, when previous films about African-Americans had largely been about poverty and crime. It also had a cast of young, charismatic actors who’ve since built up respectable careers. The sequel to that film, The Best Man Holiday, comes out this week, and while it yields only mixed results at best, now seems like the right time to follow up with these characters.
The movie begins with the nine friends from the original gathering to spend Christmas at the palatial New Jersey home of Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut), an NFL rookie back in ’99 who’s now a football legend with a shot to break the league’s all-time rushing record before he retires at season’s end. The sticking point is that he hasn’t entirely forgiven his former best friend Harper (Taye Diggs) for sleeping with his wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) back when she was Lance’s girlfriend. Stickier yet, Harper’s once-glittering career as a novelist has stalled, his wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) is about to give birth to their first child, and his publisher is leaning on him to write a biography of Lance. Wanting to tread delicately, Harper decides to gather information for the bio in secret. Like most of Harper’s ideas, this one comes to disaster.
Everyone else is dragging their own dramatic plotline into the house, and not all of them pull their weight. If you didn’t see the original film, you won’t have too much trouble picking up who these characters are, though you might be confused as to why Robyn gets so upset when she sees Harper kissing his distraught ex-girlfriend Jordan (Nia Long) on the forehead. The movie doesn’t really bog down until the big revelation halfway through, when we learn that one of these friends might not live to see next Christmas. This douses the comedy in layers of cheap sentimentality and characters bursting into tears and running out of the room.
These actors are a fun group, though, and they have a sure handle on one another’s rhythms. The smoothly handsome Diggs shows a Hugh Grant-like ability to win laughs as he squirms under awkward social situations. Still, he’s upstaged by Terrence Howard, who repeats his trick from 1999 and steals all this movie’s biggest laughs as the group’s confirmed bachelor and shameless player, whether he’s engaging in a slapfight with his buddy Julian (Harold Perrineau) in the back seat of an SUV or using his smartphone to puncture a romantic montage set to Nat King Cole’s “The Christmas Song.” The men also have a great set piece when they entertain the women by donning matching shiny suits and fedoras, dancing, and lip-syncing to New Edition’s “Can You Stand the Rain.” Moments like these make you wish the vehicle containing them were better, but they’re good to have all the same.
The Best Man Holiday
Starring Taye Diggs and Morris Chestnut. Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee. Rated R.