Thursday, November 14, 2013

Review: "The Best Man Holiday"

I must confess I watched the entirety of "The Best Man Holiday," started writing this review, and only just discovered that it was a sequel. I barely remember the 1999 romantic dramedy, "The Best Man," about a bunch of friends muddling through post-college struggles with careers and relationships.

In retrospect, it seemed an odd title, considering the only wedding is seen in flashback at the beginning, along with a bunch of other snippets from the first movie -- plus new clips to fill in the gaps of what's happened since. If you haven't seen the original (or forgotten it), these don't go a long way in bringing you up to speed.

(Short version: there are four men and five women, all gorgeous African-Americans, some of them have slept with others, some are now married to each other, and there's crossover between those two lists.)

Now it's 15 years later, the friends are approaching 40 and inevitably grown apart. Harper, the author played by Taye Diggs, is no longer the alpha dog of the guys. After a big initial success with a book loosely based on his friends, his follow-up efforts haven't hit it big, and he can't even get his latest work published.

Lance (Morris Chestnut) is now winding up a stellar career as a running back for the New York Giants. He's the most popular player in the NFL, going for the all-time rushing record in his final season. Harper's agent pushes him to write a biography of his friend and cash in.

Of course, rather than just coming right out and asking him, Harper has to dance around Lance for the entire movie, until the unavoidable discovery of his true intentions and the subsequent confrontation.

The whole gang is getting back together at the urging of Lance's wife Mia (Monica Calhoun), who wants them all to stay at their massive mansion for the week of Christmas. She has ulterior motives that aren't too hard to figure out, and which set up the entire second, sappier half of the film.

Harper's wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) is about to have their first baby, so he's having all sorts of money/daddy/responsibility issues. Complicating things further is that Mia and Harper had a thing back in the day, and Lance still holds a grudge the size of a linebacker.

Rounding out the cast are Harold Perrineau as Julian, now running an inner-city private school with his ex-stripper wife, Candace (Regina Hall), who finds his funding drying up when her notorious past gets YouTubed; Shelby (Melissa De Sousa), the outrageous girl now a reality TV star, famous for her divorces and obnoxious behavior; Jordan (Nia Long), the committed career girl who's testing the waters of monogamy with a white guy; and Terrence Howard as Quentin, the resident comedic relief and slacker, who's somehow managed to become filthy rich.

Writer/director Malcolm D. Lee puts his cast through some ostentatiously predictable paces, with an emphasis on cheap clashes and souped-up conflict. For instance, at one point Robyn observes Harper consoling Jordan in an obviously chaste embrace after the group receives some bad news, yet she still goes into a jealous huff.

A bunch of the characters have children, who wear amazing clothes and have even better manners. All the kids mysteriously disappear whenever there's a meal or important conversation. Lance, despite having a big game on Christmas Day, only attends one brief practice with his team.

This movie is a bunch of aspirational hooey, jam-packed with false Very Important Moments. In the course of the story there is a wedding (the flashback), a funeral, a birth, a death, a retirement, some breakups and some hook-ups. What's lacking is any surprises.

I still enjoyed spending time with these people; I just wish the warm-and-funny vibe of "The Best Man Holiday" didn't feel like freeze-dried leftovers.

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