'Tis the season, for holiday-themed movies to bum rush the theaters. But before "The Christmas Candle" burns bright, "Frozen" casts its snowy spell, "Tyler Perry's A Madea Christmas" brings in yuletide laughs, or "Black Nativity" lies awake in a manger, we get "The Best Man Holiday." The sequel to 1999's "The Best Man," and written and directed by Malcolm Lee (Spike Lee's cousin), the movie reunites a dynamic cast that includes Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Terrence Howard, and Harold Perrineau, and follows a group of friends as they assemble for the holidays.
It's the first holiday movie out of the gate, but is it too early to get into the Christmas spirit? And, perhaps most importantly, does "Best Man Holiday" fill your stocking with goodies or coal?
1. It's a Sequel
If "The Best Man Holiday" seems vaguely familiar, that's because it is -- it's the sequel to the 1999 comedy-drama "The Best Man." The entire cast came back for the sequel, which probably says something. Why, exactly, the original team felt that now was the right time to get the band back together remains to be seen (maybe it was spurred by an uptick in Netflix Instant views?), but still... it's important to know this.
2.It's Probably a Good Idea to See the Original
While you can certainly watch (and enjoy) "The Best Man Holiday" without having seen the original film, it's certainly not as fun. The original film was about a group of friends who reunited for the wedding of hotshot football player Lance (Chestnut); the sequel picks up with his marriage facing a major hurtle and him on the cusp of a professional breakthrough. The movie means more (if that's the right expression) if you have the back-story of the friends (in addition to the main narrative in the first film, there were extensive flashbacks to the characters in college). Also: the first film is really good! You should watch it!
3. There's a White Guy in This One
The original film featured a nearly all-African American cast, and, what's more, it was a positive view of the African American community, full of characters who were teachers and novelists and artists and intellectuals There are at least two white characters in "The Best Man Holiday;" a goofy book agent played by John Michael Higgins ("Pitch Perfect," numerous Christopher Guest movies) and, more importantly, Edie Cibrian, who plays the white boyfriend of Nia Long's character. There is some good comedy and a fair amount of drama that is milked out of this pairing, and while it's sad to see the original ensemble broken up with new players, at least it's with some fun actors.
4. It's Way More Dramatic
The original film took its cues from "The Big Chill," with its gaggle of childhood friends reuniting for one more go-round, and carefully calibrated its mixture of comedy and drama. In the sequel, there's still some goofy business, but it's much, much, much more dramatic. In fact, it often feels more like a straight-up tragedy instead of the comedy/drama the original was; more "Steel Magnolias" than "The Big Chill." It makes the second half of the movie (which, with a 122 minute run time, is unnecessarily baggy) feel like a total drag. Every character in the movie seems to cry at least twice during the course of the movie, with more hurt feelings than an entire season of some over-the-top reality TV show (the kind of shows the movie lampoons). It should be said that, despite it being kind of dour and icky, the movie remains, in its own way, somewhat relatable. These are real characters, going through real scenarios, no matter how cartoonish the outcome. So there's that.
5. The Music Isn't as Good
Another way in which the original "The Best Man" was like "The Big Chill" was that the soundtrack was totally peerless. The original movie's soundtrack was an embarrassment of riches when it came to late-'90s R&B jams. This one has a lot of bunk Christmas music and some forgettable, more recent R&B songs.
6. Terrence Howard Is Dynamite
While there are some wild tonal shifts in "The Best Man Holiday," one thing remains totally constant, which is that Terrence Howard is operating on another wavelength. His performance in the first movie as lothario Quentin was one of that film's highlights; he was a sensitive scumbag, a modern man with loose morals. In the sequel, he's no longer the loser he once was; this time he's a horn dog with money. His performance here is positively electric, weird, and wonderful all at the same time. In fact, his role in "Best Man Holiday" marks the second really strong performance he's had this year (after the unfairly overlooked revenge movie "Dead Man Down," from WWE Studios -- seriously, watch it). Quite frankly, every time he's on screen, dressed as Santa Claus or taking a cell phone photo of his Little Terrence, the whole movie lights up like a Christmas tree.
7. There's a Choreographed Dance Number Set to a New Edition Song
One of the more baffling moments in a movie filled with them is when a choreographed dance number erupts to the tune of "Can You Stand the Rain," a 1988 single from R&B band New Edition. Not only does it spring out of nowhere, leaving me to wonder when, exactly, these freshly reunited friends had time to rehearse, but it ends with just as little explanation. There are four men, dancing in unison, in matching attire, and no one bats an eye. How is this possible? What was I missing?
8. Harold Perrineau Never Screams "WAAAAAAALT!"
You know, like in "Lost." Missed opportunity.
9.It's Way More Competent Than Any Tyler Perry Movie
The first "Best Man" predated the wave of insanely popular Tyler Perry productions. This new "Best Man" is coming after those movies. It's enough to make you wonder if this new film wasn't inspired by at least the financial success of those movies, which would go a long way in explaining why this one is so totally nuts. But a distinction should be drawn, and the distinction is this: Lee is a much, much better writer and director than Perry, and while it sometimes falls into the same preachy fits of godliness, it's still quite filthy and R-rated (and, thusly, more relatable). What's more, Lee's grasp of spatial geography and staging is way more competent. More often than not, Perry's movies feel like a puzzle whose pieces have incorrectly been jammed together. Not so with "The Best Man Holiday."
10.There's a Great Catfight
Of all the non-Terrence Howard-related absurdity in "The Best Man Holiday," the best has got to be a knock-down, drag-out, pull-your-weave catfight between two of the female characters (not spoiling who is involved). In a movie as compulsively crazy as "The Best Man Holiday," it is something of a highpoint. Or a lowpoint. Whichever.