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"THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY"
(2013) (Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Dramedy: A group of college friends reunite after 15 years to spend the holidays together only to discover old rivalries and hurt feelings are still present.
PLOT:
After 15 years, a group of African-American college friends reunite at the mansion of the most successful of the group, Lance (MORRIS CHESTNUT), an NFL running back near retirement and on the verge of breaking the league's all-time rushing record. Unfortunately, this is coming at a dire time when his wife, Mia (MONICA CALHOUN) has been diagnosed with terminal cancer. The couple tries to keep that a secret in order to have one last amazing time with their friends.

But they all have problems of their own. Lance's former best man, Harper (TAYE DIGGS), was once a best-selling author. But his latest efforts have seen only dismal sales, his latest manuscript has been outright rejected, and his agent urges him to write a biography on Lance. But at the same time, Harper's wife, Robyn (SANAA LATHAN), is in the final month of a difficult pregnancy after having already suffered one miscarriage.

Nevertheless, they are all delighted to see their other friends. They include Quentin (TERRENCE HOWARD), the most free-spirited of the group; Shelby (MELISSA DE SOUSA), the oft-married party girl who has since gone on to become a reality TV star; Julian (HAROLD PERRINEAU), who has just discovered an old video posted online from the 1990s when his former stripper wife, Candace (REGINA HALL), was at a party and apparently performed sexual favors for money; and the never-married TV executive, Jordan (NIA LONG), who is finally in a serious relationship ... with a white man named Brian (EDDIE CIBRIAN).

OUR TAKE: 6 out of 10
"The Best Man Holiday" is being billed and promoted as a comedy. And it IS very funny in spots. I laughed quite a bit. But, wow, does it turn into a rather ruthless tearjerker in its final half-hour! How ruthless? We're talking one character with terminal cancer, another character close to financial ruin, and still another dealing with difficult pregnancy after suffering fertility problems and a previous miscarriage.

And then there is a scene in which an angelic child bears witness to her mother getting into a knock-down, drag-out fight with another woman over a 16-year-old sex video that has ended up on a social network and caused public embarrassment for her husband. Punches are thrown, profanities are spewed. And when it's all over, the little girl is left sobbing in the middle of the room and she utters the line -- and I kid you not -- "Mommy, it doesn't feel like Christmas anymore!"

Oh yeah. Writer/director Malcolm D. Lee goes there. He has one mission with this flick ... to drain your tear ducts. And I will say, the man does commit to the drama and the melodrama. Fortunately, he finds enough beats late in the film to inject humor and some genuine romance to keep it from being a complete sob-fest. You'd have to be a stone gargoyle not to feel moved by some of this stuff. And you have to be a complete curmudgeon not to acknowledge that are some genuine big laughs throughout.

The film is a sequel to the 1999 sleeper hit "The Best Man." It's an intriguing follow-up. The film ages the characters in real time. It really is 15 years later, and you catch up with these quirky men and women now. They've all tasted success in some way. And they all have their issues. Some of those issues are unresolved ones from the first movie, like Morris Chestnut's NFL star Lance still smarting over his best friend, Harper (Taye Diggs), having once slept with his bride. Harper, meanwhile, has failed to produce another best-selling book since his debut novel that was loosely based on all of his friends' misdeeds and misadventures.

If you recall that original flick, you're going to genuinely enjoy catching up with these mostly good-natured characters. If you've never seen the first movie or only barely remember it, there is an opening montage of scenes from that film that set up the character dynamics in this one. You won't be too lost for too long.

The nice thing about this flick is that all of the characters are interesting to follow. There isn't one boring dud in the bunch. My favorite is Terrence Howard's free-spirited Quentin, who still enjoys smoking his weed and playing the field. Every flick like this needs a character like this who can come into a heated scene and cool it off with a great quip or a hilarious line. Howard is wonderfully loose in this part. My favorite comes late in the film when he offers to loan a friend some money, but on one condition ... that the grown man just once calls him "Daddy." He also has a great scene with the previously mentioned dying character in which he shares his marijuana with her and they talk some simple truths.

But, wow, does it go for broke in that final act! Every major character has his/her chance to turn on the waterworks. Hymns are sung; deathbed promises are made; and, yes, the pregnant woman's water breaks and they'll need an angel to look out for them as the mad dash to the hospital hits bumper-to-bumper traffic. Oh yeah. It has to be said. This "Best Man" commits! I give it a 6 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed November 12, 2013 / Posted November 15, 2013


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