Except for silly story, ‘Best Man Holiday’ is OK

By Gary Clift

Sometimes even a fairly routine movie will have substantial features of interest. Here’s one about the new movie sequel “Best Man Holiday”: how was writer and director Malcolm D. Lee able to bring back the original cast fourteen years after the release of “The Best Man”?

Did Oscar nominee and Iron Man sidekick Terrence Howard feel he owed Lee this much? Was Nia Long this anxious to work with the old cast once again? Has Regina Hall run out of “Scary Movie” sequels?

Here’s another something I was considering as “Best Man Holiday” rolled: Couldn’t Lee find any ways to cut the movie’s running time? During this season previews run for almost half an hour, and theater owners prefer movies that run a little over ninety minutes. “Best Man Holiday,” which goes on and on for fully two hours, feels padded.

The story is a version of the one told in 1983’s “The Big Chill,” which featured Kevin Kline and William Hurt in its “ensemble” cast. The retrospective soap opera scheme has been used in lots other movies, of course, including some of the 212 “American Pie” sequels.

Here’s the idea: a group of old friends get together for some occasion. Here it is Christmas. NY Giant star Lance (Morris Chestnut) and his wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) press invitations on their nine best friends. Only the Caucasian beau of MSNBC producer Jordan (Long) has family reasons for missing even part of the three day holiday.

Broke writer Harper (Taye Diggs) and his very pregnant wife Robin (Sanaa Lathan) attend, as do school headmaster Julian (Harold Perrineau) and his ex-stripper wife Candy (Hall). And then, arriving separately, there are two financially successful comic characters who are fully self-satisfied: reality TV star Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) and pot-head Quentin (Howard, who has the only fully-conceived character in the film).

Here are their problems: Shelby is a bad mother to her elementary-school aged daughter. An internet video of a younger Candy selling sex has stopped a big donor from making his usual gift to Julian’s school. Jordan can’t work up any enthusiasm for her new romance. Robin can get jealous without much trouble.

All of those problems will just solve themselves somehow. Pot-boiling plots allow writers to keep tossing ingredients in without ever doing any more with them.

Then on to the more serious problems. Lance is still angry with his old best friend Harper for having had sex with Mia once, before any of them was married. This complicates Harper’s bid to write Lance’s biography, a sure money-maker as the ball carrier is just about to retire with the league’s career yardage record.

And, then, Mia has cancer. This reunion is her opportunity to see that all her friends resolve their mutual issues before her death. Oh, and Lance needs to run in the big game on Christmas night. And Robin’s baby needs to be born healthy.

All of these problems are attended to as the cast wanders through the huge mansion and a small church over three days. But even then we aren’t done. Lee wants to stick in a second or third anti-climax scene.

In short, then, the story for “Best Man Holiday” is silly, inefficient, and melodramatic. It is also unashamed of its Christian elements, unconcerned about bullying in the NFL (or elsewhere—you know, bullying is our number one problem, or so I hear), and full of opportunities for Howard to kid around.

The religious angle is an interesting one. The pre-Thanksgiving opening of the movie is sort of stunning. And I found myself noting evidence that this is a Hollywood movie with an African-American cast, not a Georgia independent production or one of Ice T’s Cheech and Chong-ish comedies.

Too bad about the story. Otherwise “Best Man Holiday” was kind of diverting.

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