By Laurie Coker

Rating: B-

In 1999, director Malcolm D. Lee gave us The Best Man, and this year, his all star cast returns in its sequel Best Man Holiday, catching  fans up on the lives of the same friends fifteen years later. Clear cast chemistry kept me connected to a film that sometimes flounders between its effort to be inspirational and the need to be funny.

Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau, Terrance Howard and others from the original cast have a natural chemistry and because of that, this story of friendships, relationships and burying the hatchet, works. The story begins with Mia (Monica Calhoun), trying desperately to get the gang back together again. She plans an extravagant, weekend-long Christmas soiree – complete with activities for the children and an enormous, friendship healing surprise. The couples haven’t seen much of each other over past years, but they live wildly successful lives. Fans of the first will (and did during the screening I attended) instantly reconnect with these rich (personally and financially) characters.

Lee, who also penned the screenplay, knows his character intimately and we are lucky for it – both cast and characters garner laughs and deserve our engagement. We can connect to them despite their super-wealthy lifestyles. Still, Lee gets a bit heavy-handed, especially in the final acts, when the film takes on a far more serious subject than just the everyday conflicts of love, family, and friendship. To be honest, without Howard’s perfect comic timing and flawless delivery, Best Man Holiday, might have lost me completely when the story shifted gears. He is on his game as Mia’s brother Quentin, who is the only unattached member of the group.

Most of the story takes place in Mia and Lance’s (Chestnut) mansion, paid for by Lance’s record breaking football career, and it is beyond gorgeous. Stunning holiday decorations, elegant suits and gowns, impressive table settings and meals, and beautiful people fill the screen and Lee gives us a delightful, if unnecessary, dance sequence that had the lady behind me practically moaning. The men look HOT, but the ladies look equally dazzling. . Of note, is Lee’s shift between sex and naughty and that of spirituality –  In one scene, we see characters smoking pot and chatting after a sexual romp, and in the next a character drops to his knees asking God for assistance. I’d like to know how religious folks and folks who imbibe and partake will react to this juxtaposition and of naughty and nice.

I saw Best Man Holiday with what I consider its target audience, and there were cheers, chuckles and comments throughout, making my experience more entertaining.  I enjoyed it in spite of its solemn turn, and I also appreciate its themes – messages particularly important around the holidays. Because of its R-Rating, it won’t be a family film, but it’ll make a great date movie this festive season. From me it earns a B-

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