Combustible Celluloid
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With: Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard, Morris Chestnut, Nia Long, Harold Perrineau, Sanaa Lathan, Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa, Regina Hall, Eddie Cibrian, John Michael Higgins
Written by: Malcolm D. Lee
Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee
MPAA Rating: R for language, sexual content and brief nudity
Running Time: 122
Date: 11/14/2013

The Best Man Holiday (2013)

2 1/2 Stars (out of 4)

Festive Friends

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Back in 1999, filmmaker Malcolm D. Lee -- Spike's cousin -- made his directorial debut with a lightly likeable ensemble dramedy, The Best Man.

The new sequel The Best Man Holiday revisits these characters fourteen years later. Not much has changed; the result is still lightly likeable.

Often clumsy and stale, it employs not one but two "lie plots," wherein, if characters simply told the truth, there would be no movie.

And the yet the enormously appealing characters still generate genuine warmth and laughs.

The movie begins with a quick update. Harper (Taye Diggs) published his best-seller, but has struggled in the years since. And now his wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) is pregnant.

Lance (Morris Chestnut) is a pro football star on the verge of breaking the all-time rushing record. He's happily married, to Mia (Monica Calhoun), with four children.

Julian (Harold Perrineau) runs a charter school with his wife Candace (Regina Hall), Jordan (Nia Long) is an award-winning TV producer, Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) is a reality TV star, and Quentin (Terrence Howard) is still a slick, swinging single.

They all gather at Lance's mansion for Christmas.

The "lie plots" come in when Harper's agent persuades him to write Lance's biography; for some reason, Harper starts researching and making notes without actually asking Lance about the idea.

Then, Julian has lost a big donor because an old video of his wife performing oral sex for money has appeared on the web. Rather than confront her about it, he fumes and frets until the situation ruptures.

Sadly, one of the characters has cancer, and so the movie has its share of tears and praying. We also get some annoying coincidences and misunderstandings.

But never fear: a baby will be born by the final reel, a creaky old idea that hasn't been used in years.

As with the first movie, Lee's focus is on characters and dialogue, rather than visuals or moods. The Christmas songs and decorations somehow don't add much. The movie feels a bit too flat and sterile to be very festive.

The characters don't generate that special kind of holiday warmth, mainly because their bond is not familial. Rather, it's a bond between people that choose to be together.

In one scene, the friends perform a cheerfully ridiculous lip-sync to an old New Edition song, and they fall right back into whatever routines were invented decades earlier.

This wonderful, funny shorthand works, and may even work again 15 years from now in The Best Man Retirement.

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