Magazine article Variety

Cluttered Sequel Far from the 'Best'

Magazine article Variety

Cluttered Sequel Far from the 'Best'

Article excerpt

Cluttered Sequel Far From the 'Best'

Back in 1999, Malcolm D. Lee's debut feature, "The Best Man," had all the hallmarks of a low-key groundbreaker: Smart, sophisticated and effortlessly charming, the film seemed to point toward a lucrative future for cosmopolitan romantic comedies featuring actors of color. Fourteen years later, it's disappointing to note just how few features seem to have followed in its footsteps, and almost as discouraging to see Lee return to the same well with such disjointed results in "The Best Man Holiday." The returning ensemble cast remains eminently watchable here, and the Universal release has already surpassed expectations with a merry $30.6 million opening, but the cluttered, overlong narrative never really finds its footing.

Wagering that fans of the original will remember its sizable cast of characters with a level of recall most commonly seen in Marvel fanboys, the film offers only a few remedial clips from "The Best Man" over the opening credits, as well as some lightning-fast catch-up. We learn that protagonist and onetime best man Harper (Taye Diggs) topped the bestseller list with his semi-autobiographical novel, while his now-pregnant wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) is a superstar chef. Harp- er's estranged best friend, Lance (Morris Chestnut), is nearing the end of his final season as a running back for the New York Giants, poised to break the all-time career rushing record, while his wife (Monica Calhoun) and four angelic children gaze on beatifically.

Julian (Harold Perrineau) and his former-stripper wife, Candace (Regina Hall), run a luxe private school; bachelor-stoner Quentin (Terrence Howard) helms a branding agency; and platinum-haired harridan Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) has found her calling as a reality TV reprobate on a "Real Housewives" spinoff. Meanwhile, Jordan (Nia Long) is now a high-powered TV producer, dating a studly white lawyer (Eddie Cibrian) to the shock and titillation of her old friends. This motley group of ex-college buddies, lovers and antagonists gather to spend Christmas weekend at Lance's gargantuan country estate, where old jealousies and hostilities remain waiting to be unearthed.

Lee's screenplay contains a number of winning lines, and he's admirably willing to tackle some tough issues, but he never settles on an appropriate tone. For much of the first hour, the filmmaker orchestrates an ungainly polyphony of fast-moving hijinks, smutty dinner-party conversations, inopportune entrances, cell-phone mix-ups, attempted husband snatches and blackmail. Roughly halfway through the two-hour-plus running time, one character reveals a tragic secret, and the film switches gears on a dime, filling the second half with tearful fights, reconciliations, Christmas miracles and chest-beating religious invocations. …

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