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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, November 15 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 46
Nothing to celebrate - Second-half treacle makes for a bad Holiday
Arts & Entertainment
ALL STORIES
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Nothing to celebrate - Second-half treacle makes for a bad Holiday

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY
Opens November 15


It's been 15 years since New York Giants superstar running back Lance (Morris Chestnut) married the love of his life, Mia (Monica Calhoun). For the first time since their wedding, they are reunited with their closest friends. Author Harper (Taye Diggs) and wife Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) are expecting their first child; man-eating reality TV starlet Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) is failing miserably at single motherhood; music industry impresario Quentin (Terrence Howard) is as big a ladies' man as ever; and Jordan (Nia Long) has become extremely successful running a cable network and maybe has even found the right man to share her life with in the form of dashing lawyer Brian (Eddie Cibrian). As for educator Julian (Harold Perrineau), he did marry fantasy woman of his dreams Candy (Regina Hall), and while all looks great on the surface, behind the scenes things aren't near as serene as they appear.

It isn't required that one buying a ticket for The Best Man Holiday has seen returning writer/director Malcolm D. Lee's (Undercover Brother) 1999 debut The Best Man, but it certainly wouldn't hurt. That said, the opening credit montage does a fair job of bringing the audience up to speed, reminding everyone just why former best friends Lance and Harper are so estranged as well as making sure they know what everyone else has been up to. It's fairly clear why the group hasn't reunited in 15 years, making their Christmastime coming together both long in coming as well as slightly suspicious, at least as far as narrative melodramatics are concerned.

STRONG START Thing is, for about an hour I couldn't have cared less how obvious and slightly schmaltzy so much of this story inherently was. Why? It's sadly rare that this collection of actors is granted the opportunity to excel in the ways they do here, and while the characters they're portraying don't stray too far from stereotypical archetypes that doesn't make them any less multidimensional. Diggs, in particular, is wonderful, while Howard's easygoing masculine charms are deviously seductive. Lathan and Calhoun are excellent, each grounding their respective characters in a real-world naturalism belying the more treacle-ridden aspects of the scenario Lee has planted them within. De Sousa is also terrific, stealing scenes left and right with glossy showmanship yet hitting just the right emotional nuances when Shelby's selfish inadequacies are thrust before her in ways she cannot ignore.

All of which makes the second hour's turn into unbearable soap opera theatrics all the more distressing. Where Lee was once allowing things to move at their own measured pace and wasn't trying to throw the emotional excesses into the audience's face, letting gentle, adult-tinged humor infuse the proceedings with mirth and warmth, once a certain twist involving the central loving couple is introduced all bets are instantly off. The melodrama bit by bit begins to overwhelm things and characters start acting like idiots out of a bad dinner-theater production while anything even close to subtlety is unceremoniously thrown out the window.

It's a mess. More, it didn't have to be. The first half showcases rather eloquently that stories of depth and meaning don't necessarily have to be wholly original in order to resonate. On top of that, Lee also has a handle on how faith and religion can be, maybe even should be, discussed and displayed in dramas such as this, Harper and Lance having some great, entirely believable discussion on the topic I found entirely sincere. The characters themselves are interesting even if the problems they're faced with are somewhat facetious, each actor given the freedom to ground them in a genuine milieu any viewer no matter their race or background can in some way relate and respond to.

SUDDEN SHIFT

But when the bottom drops out of this thing, it drops hard and with a thud that reverberates throughout the entire theater. What was unforced suddenly is crammed down the throat with unceremonious didacticism; what was once understated becomes frustratingly anything but. Lee dispenses with anything resembling restraint in order to make sure his themes are as hard, as loud, and as clear as possible. It's overbearing and unbearable, destroying the picture making the watching of it start to finish close to impossible.

There is nothing worse than when a good movie goes bad, especially when it is one that you didn't initially expect to be quite as strong as it happily starts out being. Fourteen years is admittedly a long time between pictures, so it goes without saying that, returning with its original cast intact or no, there wasn't any question that expectations for The Best Man Holiday were relatively low. The fact Lee's sequel initially exceeds said expectations is worthy of celebration; the fact it falls so incredibly flat and becomes a moderately miserable excuse for a melodrama is equally worthy of derision.

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