Movie review

‘The Best Man Holiday’: Raucous but rocky reunion | 2½ stars

Updated: 2013-11-17T00:25:15Z

By JON NICCUM

Special to The Star

“Unfinished Business” is the name of the book author Harper (Taye Diggs) wrote to kick-start his career … and the plot of 1999’s “The Best Man.”

That title also describes the assumed incentive for launching a sequel that arrives 14 years after the original proved a sleeper hit.

It helps that the talented cast of then-20-somethings have aged into fine-looking 40-somethings — as our movie stars should. “The Best Man Holiday” provides the ensemble with enough laughs and commotion to keep this wedding reunion enjoyable, even though a cheese ball third act threatens to annul the entire enterprise.

With years since he has had a best-seller, Harper is pinning his financial hopes on a new novel as he and his pregnant wife, Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), prepare for their first child. Yet the manuscript disappoints his condescending editor (John Michael Higgins), who was hoping for something “sexy, funny, smart — and not just ‘black-people smart.’”

Harper finds inspiration when invited for the Christmas holidays to the New Jersey mansion of Lance (Morris Chestnut) and Mia (Monica Calhoun). The pious Lance is about to set the NFL’s all-time rushing record before his retirement, and Harper realizes penning his friend’s memoir would be a sure-fire hit. But there are plenty of unresolved issues between the men.

That also describes the dynamic among the other successful members of this erratic clique. Julian (Harold Perrineau) and wife Candace (Regina Hall) run a private school that is threatened by an impending scandal. TV exec Jordan (Nia Long) nervously brings along her white boyfriend (Eddie Cibrian). Floozy Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) finds time to star in “The Real Housewives of Westchester” between divorces. And hard-partying Quentin (the ultra-smooth Terrence Howard, reprising his loony breakout role) runs a consulting business.

“I don’t know why white people pay me all this money to tell them what black people like,” he says. “Man, I’m light-skinned.”

Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee — forever tagged as the cousin of Spike Lee — “The Best Man Holiday” doesn’t skimp on the saucy soap opera moments that made the original a success. The sprawling suburban mansion can barely contain the number of secrets and hidden agendas shared by the gang. (A catfight between Shelby and Candace is nastier than anything on reality TV.)

It’s also an excuse for some nice scenes of bonding. The conversations are often sharp and funny. The relationships have weight. (The byproduct of such a giant gap between sequels is we perceive these actors have legitimately known one another a long time.) Diggs and Chestnut are particularly convincing as men whose lingering grudge keeps cropping up, even though they need to be all smiles in front of friends and family. So is the radiant Calhoun, saddled with the movie’s most potentially maudlin role.

Then all respectability unravels. The whirlwind finale feels like it was written by someone else — perhaps those responsible for every Julia Roberts movie of the ’90s, or the TV show “Three’s Company,” or even Tyler Perry. One cliche crashes into another. There’s “the big game” sports triumph, a car chase, madcap child-birthing and a funeral memorial ... until every ounce of subtlety has taken a backseat to high jinks.

As Quentin comments, “This is some melodramatic (expletive).”

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