Thursday, December 5, 2013

Movie Review - The Best Man Holiday

Yes, this is a movie that takes place during the week of Christmas and it features a character in its center who is very religious, but writer-director Malcolm D. Lee gets a little too heavy-handed with his infusion and use of divine influence. Lee perhaps has a too bloated, running time. There are certain things in here that weren't necessary and of which I didn't see the point, particularly at the end when Lee tries to cram a lot of events in that final act.

Perhaps, it was a pacing problem or Lee was simply trying to juggle too many things. This sequel is attempting to juggle 10 characters. With the exception of one, all are characters from the previous film, so I understand why Lee includes them. Yet, honestly, three characters could have been cut and it wouldn't have hurt or detracted from the main story. That story focuses on the friendship between Harper Stewart, played by Taye Diggs, and Lance Sullivan, played by Morris Chestnut. Lance and his wife invite Harper and his wife as well as a bunch of other friends over to their New York mansion for the Christmas holiday.

Being that the movie takes place in real time from the last movie The Best Man (1999), it's odd to see that Harper and Lance are still dealing with the issue from that movie now almost 15 years ago. It's assumed that the two haven't really spent much time together since. The invitation for Christmas seems to come out of nowhere. There is a specific reason, but even when Harper arrives, the issue can still be felt. Harper is anxious and Lance is angry and/or bitter.

The issue is that in the previous movie Lance learned during the run-up to his wedding that his "best man," Harper, had an affair with his then soon-to-be wife, Mia, played by Monica Calhoun. Harper in fact took Mia's virginity. He not only did that, but Harper also is a writer and he detailed the affair and his friendship with Lance in a book. When Lance found out, he exploded. The two got over it back then, or at least that's what was assumed.

This movie is proof that Harper and Lance didn't get over it. They can be in the same room together. They can talk and laugh, but obviously there is still a lot of tension between them. The additional tension comes from the fact that Harper hasn't published a book in years and is running out of money due to his wife, Robyn, played by Sanaa Lathan, undergoing expensive fertility treatments. She's now eight-and-a-half months pregnant, and his agent tells Harper the only way he'll be able to support his wife and pending baby is if he writes a biography on his friend Lance who at this point is a very popular and wealthy football player for the New York Giants. Yet, given what happened with Harper's last book, Harper knows it's not going to be easy to convince Lance to let him do it.

Throughout the holiday celebrations, Harper secretly tries to gather information about Lance's life and career for his book. Things are complicated when Harper's friend for whom he had some romantic feelings, Jordan, played by Nia Long, shows up with her boyfriend, Brian, played by Eddie Cibrian. Brian stands out as the only white person in a predominantly African-American cast, though he loves Jordan.

What Jordan does for a living or the depth of her and Harper's relationship isn't explored. Knowledge of the first movie is required to fully understand. Diggs and Long do a good job of conveying that depth through their performances, but still knowledge of the first movie is required. It's the same thing when during an emotional moment, the song "As" by Stevie Wonder is performed by Anthony Hamilton and Marsha Ambrosius. If you haven't seen the first movie, then the significance of that song will be lost on you.

Lee gives a bit of a visual recap of the first movie at the top, but it's not enough. It sets the stage, but it's still not enough. Therefore, to include certain characters in the movie amounts to fan service. This is in reference to the characters of Julian and Candace, played by Harold Perrineau and Regina Hall respectively. I like both actors, but their characters add nothing to the main story.

They add humor, but of course the real comic relief is Quentin or Q, played by Oscar-nominee Terrence Howard. He's refreshing because he's the one character who is completely honest and who says what's on his mind, often with no filter or inhibition. His female counterpart is Shelby, played by Melissa De Sousa. Both of whom are all about sex and celebrity, or at least sex and social media.

However, by the time the third act rolls on screen, Lee rushes through a lot of events, which is meant to play out the fate of Harper and Lance's friendship. Yet, things get muddled. A Christmas Day football game is particularly muddling. I really didn't see the point from the filmmaker's perspective or why everyone pushed Lance to participate from the characters' perspectives.

During the football game, Lee has Chestnut do a Tim Tebow after a touchdown. He then has the camera on a jib or crane and lifts it up above Chestnut's head, as he raises his hands in the air, thanking God. Later, Diggs' character Harper challenges his faith and belief in God, but it's not enough to counter-balance Lance's reverence. The implication of God facilitating the touchdown and that it was divinely delivered is ridiculous.

I would say this movie is better than all Tyler Perry films combined, even though it's working on a pretty, parallel level. For example, this movie is not that dissimilar from Tyler Perry's Why Did I Get Married? (2007). The writing and characterization is so much less preachy. It's not perfect, but less preachy.

Four Stars out of Five.
Rated R for language, sexual content and brief nudity.
Running Time: 2 hrs. and 3 mins.

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