The Best Man Holiday: Film Review

Dan Steinberg/Invision/AP
African-American "Big Chill" has enjoyable moments of raucous humor and way too much schmaltz.

Writer-director Malcolm D. Lee has re-assembled the entire nine-member cast of the original 1999 movie for this sequel.

Sequels are rampant in Hollywood, but it’s rare to see a sequel produced almost 15 years after the release of the original movie. This happens when a movie has a fan base, and filmmakers and cast members are eager to revisit an earlier opus. The Best Man was a hit in 1999, partly because it appealed to a more upscale African-American audience than Hollywood ordinarily acknowledges. Now writer-director Malcolm D. Lee has re-assembled the entire nine-member cast of the original movie for The Best Man Holiday, which is set at Christmas and has a good chance to succeed and also become a holiday perennial on TV and DVD.

The original movie followed the romantic and professional travails of a group of college friends as they set out in the world and prepared for the wedding of two members of the gang. Although the new film refers to events in that earlier movie, it isn’t necessary to recall the film to enjoy this one. In the intervening years, several of the college chums have remained close while others have drifted apart because of tensions that arose when they were younger. Some of them have enjoyed professional success in the intervening years, while others are struggling. Most have married and have families, though a couple are still unattached. When the two most affluent members of the group—pro football player Lance (Morris Chestnut) and his wife, Mia (Monica Calhoun)—decide to invite the gang for a reunion over the Christmas holidays, friendships and marriages are tested as new crises arise.

PHOTOS: Ho Ho Hollywood! Tinseltown's 22 Best Christmas-Themed Movies

The premise, of course, isn’t novel. The film stirs strong memories of another reunion movie, The Big Chill, though the writing here is far less incisive. The key characters, in addition to Lance and Mia, are Harper (Taye Diggs), a struggling novelist, and his wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), who are expecting their first child. Some of the other characters provide more comic relief. Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) is the star of a lurid TV show like Desperate Housewives, while Quentin (Terrence Howard) is the bad boy of the group, an aging, immature Lothario who provokes and aggravates the others with his sexual byplay.

Some of the crises that these characters face are more interesting than others. Harper’s financial problems resonate in today’s economic climate. On the other hand, the uproar surrounding a video that ex-stripper Candace (Regina Hall) made many years earlier is milked much too strenuously. The film as a whole veers rather uneasily from broad comedy to teary dramatic crises  The irreverent humor works best. A catfight between Hall and De Sousa is delicious fun, and Howard steals the movie with his uproarious sexual shenanigans.

All of the cast members deliver smooth, capable performances, but this sequel clarifies why Howard has become the biggest star from the original ensemble. (He also gave one of the strongest performances in Lee Daniels’ The Butler this past summer.) And although the movie turns too sentimental in the final third, there’s no denying that there are some emotionally affecting moments to bolster the comedy. Reactions to the heavy religiosity in the last section will be mixed, with some audience members appreciating this element and others tuning out.

PHOTOS: Fall's Most Anticipated Movies

The biggest problem with the movie, which it shares with the original Best Man, is its excessive running time. Too many endings bloat the last half-hour. We have a big football game, a funeral, a childbirth scene, a successful book publication and even a wedding. A couple of those climaxes could have been cut without seriously weakening the film.

Technically the film is polished, though the gigantic mansion that Lance and Mia inhabit may be a bit excessive even for a successful sports star. Still, it’s the glamorous trappings that set this movie apart from many others with black characters, and that’s clearly what the audience will turn out to see. There’s a lot of effective music in the film, though the Christmas standards on the soundtrack are overused. All in all, this long-delayed sequel is a very mixed bag, with just enough laughter and tears to squeak by as holiday entertainment.

Opens: Friday, Nov. 15 (Universal)
Cast: Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, Eddie Cibrian
Director-screenwriter: Malcolm D. Lee
Producers: Sean Daniel, Malcolm D. Lee
Executive producer: Preston Holmes
Director of photography: Greg Gardiner
Production designer: Keith Brian Burns
Music: Stanley Clarke
Costume designer: Danielle Hollowell
Editor: Paul Millspaugh
Rated R, 122 minutes