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Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Review: THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY Tugs at the Heartstrings, Despite a Few Recycled Storylines

As is the approach to many romantic dramedy sequels, writer/director Malcolm D. Lee attempts to update his previous winning formula with THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY (in theaters Friday). His method? Taking a somewhat less interesting character from the first film and making hers the central story in the follow-up.

It's an odd choice of character on which to focus, but it isn't one made in vain simply because without this device the sequel would have mimicked its predecessor, 1999's The Best Man, almost exactly. Set fifteen years after the first film, THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY opens with a much needed recap of each character's storyline told in montage clips. As expected, Mia and Lance (Monica Calhoun and Morris Chestnut), the betrothed couple from the first film, are still together now with four children and live in a pretty sweet mansion, thanks to his football millions. The two invite their closest friends to spend the Christmas holiday with them, which sets up the gathering of characters. Shelby (Melissa DeSousa), who you may remember as the over-the-top glamourpuss, is now a popular D-lister most notable for writing a tell-all memoir and her stint on reality TV's Real Housewives of Westchester.

Lance's bridegrooms are still going down a fairly steady path as well, both personally and professionally. Harper (Taye Diggs), the titular character from the first film, is happily married to Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), who's expecting their first child. Quentin (Terrence Howard) is, well, still the obnoxious player he was before, whose character really comes in handy within the last half of the film when it takes a dramatic turn. Julian (Harold Perrineau) and Candace (Regina Hall) are still going strong, despite Candace's scandalous past covered in the first film. Finally, Jordan (Nia Long) is now dating Brian (Eddie Cibrian), a new addition to the franchise.

While the cast is delightful to watch and the talent is undeniable, it becomes evident early on in the film that Lee has nowhere significant to take these characters. He is playing off the audience's eagerness to see them in any capacity. These nine friends get together, hilarity ensues, and we all are just so happy to see the reunion. Welcomed but obvious fillers--like a random but surprisingly spot-on male lip sync dance number and a wild outburst about Candace's past scandalous sexcapades (addressed in the previous film)--further support this. Even the literary betrayal subplot is once again used in this film (a catalyst in The Best Man) between Harper and Lance. But there is something about seeing these people together again, with the holidays as a backdrop, that warms your heart like hot cocoa.

But, as mentioned above, the latter half of the movie changes tone completely with a new development in Mia's storyline. Without giving anything away (though you'll probably read about it online elsewhere), it's something that affects all of the characters. Lee uses this opportunity to allow them to experience self reflection which, in turn, yields more nuanced and mature characters. This quickly sobers each of them, with the exception of Quentin, who offers comic relief right on cue after each heavy sequence. It will be interesting to see how devoted fans of the first film will receive this new twist. If you're expecting a fun time at the movies, as the commercials seem to suggest, you may want to adjust your emotions going in.

While the entire cast holds their own, despite some having thinner plotlines than others, it was Calhoun who shined most. As giving of an actress that she is, her performance transfixes audiences even when she has no dialogue. It takes chops to be able to stand out among an excitable cast this size with a more tempered portrayal, but Calhoun more than rises to the occasion.

Touching, fun, unexpected yet a bit disjointed, THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY will satisfy die-hard fans of the first film and help usher in the holiday movie season. Don't be surprised if Lee rounds out the trilogy with another sequel, as suggested at the end of this film. Lets just hope he doesn't wait so long the next time.

Rating: B (*** out of *****)


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