Rest assured, moviegoers, you didn’t have to attend the first “Best Man” to pick up on what’s going down in the long-in-the-making sequel, but you might feel a desperate need to revisit the 1999 original after taking in the emotion-laden cheeseball weirdness of this new sequel. Malcolm D. Lee’s “The Best Man Holiday” picks up fifteen years after the fistfight-filled wedding that served as both setting and reason for his first film, and while everyone has moved on with their lives, some people are still emotionally mired in the past. This is absolutely a good reason to gather ten people in a house together to celebrate the holidays. Nothing can possibly go wrong. When is the Yankee Swap taking place?
Here to help audiences along with remembering just what went down in the first film – fine, we’ll bite, Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) wrote a book about his friends’ college years and the secrets revealed within it came to light during his best pal Lance’s (Morris Chestnut) wedding, that’s as far as we’ll go – is a zippy opening montage. Packed with footage new and old, fake news clippings, and handy name tags, the opening credits are both strangely ambitious (it clearly took some time to put together) and utterly confusing to neophytes. Informative opening credits aside, audiences will pick the rest up quite easily along the way, thanks to helpful (it not entirely hammy) exposition and enough in fighting to make it plain just who hates who (even if it’s not always exactly clear why).
Friendships that were already tested in Lee’s first film haven’t necessarily healed, so when the Stewarts (Diggs and Sanaa Lathan as his very pregnant wife Robyn) are asked to attend a long weekend of holiday festivities at the Sullivan home (the now long-married Chestnut and Monica Calhoun as a lovely wife Mia), it’s certainly jarring and a bit strange. Their presence has been requested via the most vague invite imaginable – the Sullivans’ card references only “this holiday season” and their desired attendance, without any details whatsoever. No wonder they don’t want to go. Yet, as soon as they arrive at the Sullivans’ McMansion (presumably on time and on the correct day), they are greeted with printed out itineraries that detail the next three days. Relaxing, right? Well, it sort of is, if only because Mia is so beatific and charming as a hostess, and never lets them feel as if something else is going on (read: something else is going on).
Perhaps it’s because Harper is so caught up in his own personal games that he doesn’t pick up on the inherent weirdness of the situation sooner. Author Harper hasn’t had a hit in years, and his agent (played weirdly and wonderfully by John Michael Higgins as a man prone to yelling about Twitter without sounding deranged) has suggested that Harper charm ex-bestie Lance in order to pen the soon-to-be-retiring football hero’s memoirs. Too bad for Harper that Lance still hates him, and the arrival of the rest of their pals will only stir up more drama to spare.
“The Best Man Holiday” is a film about relationships and people – so there are plenty of relationships and people to move around inside it, and confusing introduction aside, Lee does a good job keeping everyone and everything (mostly) straight once they’re all under one roof. Robyn is still struggling with Harper’s old feelings for Jordan (Nia Long), who is also struggling with her own feelings about her nice new boyfriend Brian (Eddie Cibrian). Elsewhere, Julian (Harold Perrineau) is dealing with the business repercussions of a YouTube video of his ex-stripper wife Candace (Regina Hall), who is none the wiser to the troubles her husband is facing. Rounding it all out are Shelby (Melissa De Sousa), a drama queen who has finally found a fitting home on “The Real Housewives of Westchester,” and Terrence Howard as dippy, sexy Quentin, turning in one of the most off-the-wall and engaging performances of the year. It’s an explosive combination of personalities, secrets, and pure insanity.
How insane? Let’s put it this way – “The Best Man” holiday includes a sex montage that features all the different characters engaging in various acts, all set to Christmas music. Happy holidays, folks, hope you brought your families.
That sort of thing speaks to the tone of the film, which is to say, one that is all over the cinematic map – vacillating wildly between the pure cornball (platitudes about faith and family) to the outrageously wacky (Terrence Howard sending dick pics). “The Best Man Holiday” crams wild hijinks and crazy catfights alongside deeper mediations about the presence of God in our lives and the true meaning of friendship without batting a damn eye, making the film both bonkers crazy and totally engaging to watch. Yet for all its tonal missteps and traditional tropes, “The Best Man Holiday” has something rare at its very center – genuine emotion. Once the real reasons for Mia’s burning desire to reunite all her friends for one last Christmas come to light, it’s a race to see who can sob and wail the hardest and longest, but all that emotion, the stuff that could so easily feel forced and over the top, scans as believable here. By its last act, “The Best Man Holiday” goes whole hog on the holiday cheese, and there’s something admirable about an adult feature that doesn’t balk at real feelings, especially around the holidays (sex montages notwithstanding).
SCORE: 6.9 / 10