*** (out of four)
How long has it been since 1999’s likable, mild “The Best Man”? That movie featured Lauryn Hill music when it was still semi-new.
Despite its odd timing and title—you can’t just add seasonal words to a franchise; please let us never see “The Hunger Games Thanksgiving”—”The Best Man Holiday” does right by its characters and handles its emotional challenges properly. That may sound like a cinematic given, but it happens less often than it should.
What may happen often among viewers is the mingling of fond memories and not-quite-healed wounds when old friends get together. Just before Christmas, the whole gang from “The Best Man,” most of whom are married with kids, converge on the mansion of Mia (Monica Calhoun) and Lance (Morris Chestnut), the New York Giants star runningback who’s 176 yards from breaking the all-time rushing record. (Sorry, Emmitt Smith.) Though it’s been a long time since Harper (Taye Diggs) proposed to Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) at the Mia/Lance wedding after clearing up the whole Harper-and-Mia-slept-together-back-in-the-day thing, the tension between the former best friends remains. That’s bad for Harper, who needs a new hit book and thinks a biography of Lance is the ticket. “Exploit your friend for capital gain,” Harper’s agent (John Michael Higgins) says. “This is America!”
Indeed it is, and it’s a country where strong, modern onscreen portrayals of African-Americans occur at a shamefully low frequency. (Don’t even start me on Tyler Perry.) “The Best Man Holiday” writer-director Malcolm D. Lee is responsible for some of the garbage, like “Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins” and “Soul Men.” Here, though, Lee’s on solid footing, even more so than in “The Best Man.” The better-paced sequel again capitalizes on a unified cast, and this time the fun jumps off the screen. Unfortunately Lee relies on sitcom-level incidents of technology foibles. His tear-jerking tendencies also go a little far in drawing tension out of a suspected illness and a kid responding to fighting adults by saying, “This doesn’t feel like Christmas to me.”
Still, Terrence Howard is hilarious as monogamy opponent Quentin, and Harold Perrineau and Regina Hall effectively ground the Julian/Candace relationship that started when she danced at Lance’s bachelor party. Again highlighting the folly of deception among loved ones and valuing church, forgiveness and commitment with somewhat uneven performances, “The Best Man Holiday” genuinely looks at friendship and various concerns of growing older. See you in 14 years, fellas.
Or, based on the way this installment ends, possibly sooner.
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