Movies about friends reuniting live or die on the chemistry of the ensemble. If the audience doesn't buy that these individuals share a history and are comfortable with each other, the film never has a chance. Malcolm D. Lee's The Best Man Holiday proves that a strong and complementary cast can go a long way toward papering over a number of cracks.
The movie is a sequel to Lee's 1999 dramedy The Best Man, and one of the best aspects of this new film is that, much like picking up a likable TV show in its second season, you don't need to know anything about the previous installment to get caught up with all of the characters -- and boy are there a lot of characters. Taye Diggs is the first among equals as Harper, a novelist whose books aren't selling very well and who was recently fired from his teaching job at NYU because of budget cutbacks. Adding to his money troubles is the fact that his publishing house has refused to release his ambitious new novel.
He's hidden all of this from his very pregnant wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), whose doctor is advising her to avoid stress. Later, the couple get an invite from their old friend Mia (Monica Calhoun) to get together for the Christmas weekend. Harper isn't sure what to do since he and Mia's husband Lance (Morris Chestnut), previously the very best of friends, have been estranged since Lance discovered that Harper and Mia once slept together.
However, when Harper is informed by his publishing company that he would get a big advance for writing a biography of Lance, a running back close to setting the all-time-career-yardage record, he decides to take Mia up on the offer. He soon finds himself catching up with close friends like Julian (Harold Perrineau Jr.), who runs an elite private school, and Julian's wife Candace (Regina Hall), a former stripper whose past is causing a million-dollar donor to withdraw his support from their institution.
Also in attendance is Shelby (Melissa DeSousa), an extroverted TV figure and the star of a Real Housewives series; Quentin (Terrence Howard), the oversexed, pot-loving, joke-cracking owner of a branding agency; Jordan (Nia Long), a respected TV producer; and Jordan's current boyfriend, a wealthy, handsome, and successful attorney (Eddie Cibrian) who happens to be white.
As the group tease, drink, bicker, laugh, and eat, old wounds reopen, causing further strain on many of these friendships. However, when the specter of death enters the picture, these pals must learn to forgive and forget before it's too late.
While there's nothing terribly original or compelling about The Best Man Holiday, it is well acted. Diggs has a ton of charisma that he puts out there with little fuss. At one point the four guys put on a dance routine, and as good as the other performers are, your eye keeps returning to Harper every time -- not because he's the most interesting character, but because he seems the most likely to do something remarkable. DeSousa chews up the scenery as the attention-loving Shelby, Monica Calhoun makes sure Mia remains the quiet soul of both the group and the film, and Perrineau plays the befuddled straight man to the wackos around him with ace comic timing.
However, it's Terrence Howard who walks off with the whole movie. He gets all of the funniest lines and turns Quentin into the kind of smart-ass whose every snap is softened by its humor and obvious love. When the film takes its most melodramatic turns, both the audience and the characters are equally thankful Quentin is on hand to puncture the sadness with a quick line.
Additionally, Paul Millspaugh's crisp editing keeps things moving along efficiently -- he never sacrifices a laugh, but he also never lets a scene go on for longer than necessary, which is an accomplishment in a movie packed with characters and densely plotted narratives.
Lee has a better feel for comedy than drama here, but he's more talented at having the two bump up against each other than Tyler Perry. The movie's harshest sequence features a fistfight between two of the female characters that's genuinely unsettling in its ferocity, but in the very next scene Lee juxtaposes that unexpectedly brutal moment by having two of the men get into an argument that escalates into a rather funny slap fight in the backseat of a car.
The Best Man Holiday achieves what it sets out to do. Thanks to a very game cast, it entertains -- you might shed a tear and you certainly will laugh - but it's also entirely inconsequential. It's not a giant sit-down Christmas feast, it's a candy cane in a cup of warm cocoa.