Both the bounties and ravages of time have left their marks on the tight circle of friends who waltzed so engagingly through 1999’s memorable romantic comedy “The Best Man.” But as writer-director Malcolm D. Lee reunites the sexy ensemble after almost 15 years for “The Best Man Holiday,” an old cliché hangs over the proceedings – the more things change, the more they stay the same.
The first film brought together a top-notch cast of emerging young actors and gave them a smart, breezy, multi-faceted story to act out that put a seductively innovative spin on the old rom-com formula.
So reuniting this charming troupe, now that they’ve matured and become recognizable stars on their own, would seem a sure holiday happening. Lee (cousin of Spike and maker of “Scary Movie”) displays a generous hand with actors and a fine sense of orchestrating a crowded ensemble with more than its share of screen-dominating personalities (Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Harold Perrineau and more).
But the writer-director is less astute at giving his cast a worthy follow-up in this slapdash, episodic narrative that ricochets among sizzling sexual sparring, buff bromance, touching nostalgia, intimate soulfulness and panty-throwing silliness.
The set-up is pretty simple. After 15 years apart, the old college friends – many of whom hadn’t connected since the wedding of the first film – get back together over the Christmas holidays and quickly re-ignite old rivalries and romances.
The characters’ lives are all over the map. Football player Lance (Chestnut) is at the top of his game, and he’s settled down with Mia (Monica Calhoun) and their four children in a sprawling, nouveau riche mansion. Novelist Harper (Diggs) is married to Robyn (Lathan), and they’re expecting their first baby, but his writing career has been rocky and he still harbors some guilty secrets. Jordon (Long) is in a promising new relationship with Brian (Eddie Cibrian), but she remains a staunch workaholic. Former stripper Candy (Hall) has opened a wholesome new chapter in her life, running a charter school with her husband, Murch (Perrineau). Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) is a saucy, divorced reality TV star, and Quentin (Howard) is still a charming, womanizing horndog.
At times, it feels like you need a program to keep all the characters straight, but Lee patiently gives each one room to breathe and assume a moment or two in the spotlight. Still, the interlinking relationships are not all equal, and some feel rushed and perfunctory. And Lee’s script (so startlingly fresh in the first film) this time feels slightly shopworn and overlong.
In an ensemble this stellar, it’s difficult to name standouts, but as in the first film Diggs, as the devious writer, and Howard, as the shameless Lothario, are particularly memorable by the sheer force of their screen charisma. Long, as the driven career woman, and Hall, as the erstwhile stripper, also seem to make the most of their sporadic screen time.
While “The Best Man Holiday” has more tinsel and less substance this time out, it’s nonetheless a yuletide reunion with enough starry sparkle and residual goodwill to be a gift worth giving.
- Dennis King
“The Best Man Holiday”
2 1/2 stars
Starring: Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Taye Diggs, Nia Long
(Language, sexual content, brief nudity)