It’s possibly an ill advised idea to make a sequel to a modestly successful film a full 14 years after the original was made. It’s probably just as ill advised to make said sequel into a Holiday themed extravaganza. Neither is really the reason why the awkwardly titled The Best Man Holiday ultimately falls flat on its face. This sequel to the well received and imminently likeable 1999 original film about a bunch of best friends coming together and falling apart when one of their own is about to get married, gets off to a surprisingly strong start. Then, once the second hour of the film hits, there’s a point where Malcolm D. Lee’s film floors its foot on the gas to go over a cliff of clichés and ludicrous contrivances with reckless disregard for what made the original a worthwhile endeavour in the first place.
Everyone from The Best Man has seemingly moved on and done well for themselves. Lance (Morris Chestnutt) is on the verge of hanging up his football cleats for good, and on Christmas Day, he’s due to break the all time rushing record while leading his New York Giants into the playoffs. His wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) also looks to the season to bring all of their old friends back together. Jordan (Nia Long) now works as an executive for MSNBC and is currently dating someone who may be the whitest man alive (Eddie Cibrian). Julian (Harold Perrineau) has been thriving as the founder of his own school, but has seen his funding cut after a video featuring his wife (Regina Hall) stripping back at a frat party in 1997 hits the internet. Laid back, self proclaimed pimp Quentin (Terrence Howard) hasn’t changed a bit, but is doing well for himself with a brand management company. Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) has become a reality television star thanks to her penchant for divorces and make-up that looks like it was put on with a patching trowel, and seems to be letting success go to her head.
The only one who seems to be doing miserably is Harper (Taye Diggs), who hasn’t lived up to the success of his first novel. And with a kid on the way and his wife (Sanaa Lathan) about to complete a potentially dangerous pregnancy, he’s in need of some money and fast. Not wanting to go to visit Lance and Mia after Harper slept with the bride in the last film – something Lance has never forgiven – Harper caves when his pushy boss suggests writing the usually press shy Lance’s biography.
If you got all that, good. Lee certainly has a lot of ornaments that he’s juggling in the air, but there’s energy in the early going that really does feel like the audience getting a chance to sit in with some old friends. Even though, as with most films of this vaguely soap opera-ish nature, there are a lot of MacGuffins in play that are getting set up to bite each character in the ass later, there’s an amiability and an intelligence to it all that carries things a long way. It’s a rare comedy made for adults, by adults, and starring people who walk, talk, and sound like adults. It’s refreshing, and the cast seems to have not missed a step, getting back into their old roles with tremendous ease and grace, especially the scene stealing Howard who brings as much to his performance here as he did in the first installment.
But then, almost at the perfect halfway point of the film, a plot point is introduced (one that I won’t spoil because that would just be mean) that implodes everything around it. It’s a moment that involves one of the characters keeping a secret from their friends. (Hint: It’s the one who doesn’t seem to have a secret while everyone else is out shouting from the rooftops about their problems.) The moment that this event happens, things start to go downhill, but the cast keeps things likeable. It stops being a movie about adults, and it becomes “one of THOSE holiday movies.”
There’s an interesting – and lengthy – discussion that could be had about it, but let’s just say that it ends up being a film that takes on one very solitary focus for an extended period of time that’s disinteresting because of how insultingly manipulative it all feels. It spoils nothing to say that the event is something incredibly tragic and very drawn out. As it wears on, it strains the film’s already implausibly baggage filled narrative to put the more interesting stories of these people on a complete and total pause. It also turns what’s now main focus of the film into something so ludicrous and over the top with just how much it’s trying to make the audience weep rivers of tears that I almost wanted to give an award to all of the actors (especially Chestnut) awards for being able to get through it all with a straight face.
A good analogy for what I felt watching the second hour of The Best Man Holiday would be that episode of The Simpsons where Homer wants to roast a pig on a spit, but Lisa runs off with it to dispose of it and Homer can only watch while optimistically spouting that “it’s still good” after rolling through the woods, across a highway, down a river, before finally becoming airborne, never to be seen again. I was aghast at just how much of the good will I had invested in the film was slowly slipping away before the final twenty minutes kicked in and the film essentially became airborne, never to be seen again.
There are few films that manage to eat themselves alive as badly as The Best Man Holiday. It’s a film that I so desperately wanted to like, and then by the end it felt like I had been baited and switched. The first, genuinely funny hour was exactly what I signed up for. The second hour is something no one should ever be subjected to unless they love the absolute worst forms of emotional pandering. It lets its audience down so greatly by trying to cram the sentimentality of the Holiday season down people’s throats instead of just being a good movie. It’s like having a best friend that you love spending time with gift you with a fruitcake laced with coal, and then having to listen to life lessons while it’s force fed to you. Ho ho no.