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Terrence Howard saves 'The Best Man Holiday' from cliches

The 14-years-later sequel to "The Best Man" veers all over the place as its characters reunite over Christmas. But that's a good thing.

Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa and Nia Long reunite for "The Best Man Holiday." Credit: Michael Gibson Monica Calhoun, Melissa De Sousa and Nia Long reunite for "The Best Man Holiday."
Credit: Michael Gibson

‘The Best Man Holiday’
Director: Malcolm D. Lee
Stars: Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut
Rating: R
3 (out of 5) Globes

On one hand, maintaining a consistent tone in a film is impressive — a sign that the audience is in good hands. On the other hand, a messy bouillabaisse of various, even contradictory tones can make one feel more alive. “The Best Man Holiday” doesn’t necessarily make one feel sprightly. A sequel to the 1999 sleeper hit, it's a sleepy, shaggy hang-out movie, one too enamored with melodramatic cliches. But it is one that veers madly from genre — from R-rated penis jokes to shameless tear-jerking, without any care that the two extremes might not necessarily fit together.

A reckless mashup is more forgivable anyway when it’s an ensemble film, where big personalities duke it out for screentime. The build-up to a wedding in the first is replaced with a Christmas gathering, with the first film’s nine friends — four guys and five girls — hunkering in the sprawling manse of Morris Chestnut’s Lance, now a New York Giant star. Each gets a subplot of varying significance each. Will failing novelist Harper (Taye Diggs) get estranged former bestie Lance to allow him to write a book about him? Could bow-tied educator Julian (Harold Perrineau) get over newly awakened anxieties over his wife (Regina Hall) being a former stripper? And surely there’s nothing up with Lance’s wife Mia’s (Monica Calhoun)’s cough.

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This would be all wealth porn were it not for Terrence Howard’s Quentin. Howard has an element of danger that melds well with Quentin, the one happily not yet ready to settle down and procreate. Howard cruises through the movie, trying not to get involved in the more serious bits, and getting the best lines. Do Howard’s blue jokes fit in with a subplot that takes a turn for weapie tragedy? Perhaps not, but they’re hugely welcome. “That was some melodramatic s—,” Howard cracks after one shouty development that pushes things too far into the serious. There’s a long history of Hollywood expertly mixing tones; this Yuletide caper is hugely indebted to “Meet Me in St. Louis,” which beautifully carouses all over the place.

“The Best Man Wedding” is barely in the same medium as that one, but it has shocking reservoirs of intelligence, even nuance. Faith plays a big role, but it’s not one kind of faith. Where Lance prides himself on placing God even before his family, his resolve is tested, while Harper gets to take a more skeptical view without being punished for it. It accepts that age brings disappointments, and worse, and doesn’t always put a bright spin on it. That smarts can sit with stupidity and cliches is a good thing, not bad.

 
 
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