In dire need of another bestselling novel, Harper Stewart (Diggs) reluctantly agrees to spend the holidays with the same friends whose personal business served as the barely disguised basis for his breakout book 14 years earlier.
Following in the tradition of the nine-year gap between the last two American Pie sequels, the 11-year delay between Screams 3 and 4, and the 28-year span between Tron and Tron: Legacy, The Best Man Holiday arrives as an improbable sequel to the modest 1999 hit The Best Man, retaining original director Malcolm D. Lee and the same key players in its belated bid for the continued affection of a mostly minority-driven audience.
Last seen restoring sanity at a wedding after emptying his friends’ closets of their respective skeletons, Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs) is back in a tough spot. He and Robyn (Sanaa Lathan) have a baby due on New Year’s Eve, which leaves him reluctant to admit to her that he has been laid off from his teaching position at NYU. (Keeping needless secrets remains his defining characteristic.) Hoping to potentially land the lucrative rights to the retiring running back’s biography, Harper decides to take up still-resentful superstar Lance (Morris Chestnut) and his more forgiving wife, Mia (Monica Calhoun), on an invitation to spend the holidays at their mansion.
Of course, that also means the return of the equally loud-mouthed Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) and Quentin (Terrence Howard); work-minded Jordan (Nia Long) and her new boyfriend, Brian (Eddie Cibrian); and cash-strapped Murch (Harold Perrineau) and Candace (Regina Hall). Save for the absence of Murch’s Caribbean accent, little has changed for the crew beyond the usual relationship drama. It speaks well to the ensemble’s chemistry that the camaraderie and cattiness remain intact and, at its best moments, Holiday has a welcome looseness that feels just like hanging out with old friends again, even if you aren’t exactly sure when they choreographed that elaborate lip-sync to a familiar New Edition tune.
Writer/director Lee has subtly stepped up his visual game, shooting in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio rather than 1.85:1 and recovering nicely from this year’s resoundingly slapdash Scary Movie 5 (speaking of long-awaited sequels). Alas, a distinct tonal divide at the hour mark sees one character coughing up blood and everyone else left to wring hands and weep tears during their individually designated showcase scenes. Groan-worthy contrivances result in renewed rifts, a strategy made all the worse by Lee’s last-minute bid for football-related uplift and baby-birthing mania to counter the increasing amount of sap.
Compared to Tyler Perrys superficially similar fare, this is a masterpiece of mood shifts, but the first half is such an agreeably raucous reunion that we hate to see a pesky thing like terminal illness ruin all the fun.