For one week in 1999, Malcolm D. Lee’s The Best Man was the top film at the box office. Now, 14 years later, its sequel, The Best Man Holiday, has — for some reason — hit theaters. I say “for some reason” since I have zero recollection of its predecessor, not to mention my wondering as to why a sequel to an obscure comedy nearly a decade-and-a-half old is in theaters to begin with. But after seeing how it finished just $8 million behind Thor: The Dark World at the box office and nearly recouped its budget, we have yet another reason why no one has put me in charge of a studio.
All surprise financial success aside, when it comes down to it, The Best Man Holiday is a mostly pleasant movie with some serious deficiencies. Surprisingly, the film assumes you’ve seen the original, since after just a bit of catching up with its cast of characters, the movie jumps right into things. While much of the movie centers on the complicated relationship between writer and NYU professor, Harper (Taye Diggs), and his old friend and football star Lance (Morris Chestnut), there are also enough characters — along with their various subplots — to fill a Russian novel. And that’s our first problem, since even though the cast are all amiable and manage to create genuine, believable chemistry (a tricky proposition with the number of characters here), the plot just has too much ground to cover. What should have been a congenial, 90-minute dramatic comedy instead wanders around for two hours as every storyline and every character gets optimal screentime.
Even this might not be an insurmountable problem if the writing was up to snuff, but Lee — who pulls double duty as writer and director — only has eyes for melodrama. Now, I’ve been known to enjoy some overheated nonsense, but Lee’s hardly even trying. Not only do we have a character with a full-blown case of movie-cancer, but we find out about it through the ne plus ultra of melodramatic cliches — coughed-up blood in a rag. The problem is that Lee is taking this business a bit too seriously, meaning The Best Man Holiday’s dramatics are too straight-faced for its more far-fetched moments to be entertaining. It’s inherently goofy, but Lee thinks he’s dealing in heavy emotions. This kind of undulating thought process pops up often; there’s lots of frank sexual discussion, which is often followed up by fits of religiosity, a combo that’s infinitely odd. (I’d consider this progressive if it didn’t feel like Lee was simply hedging.) This sort of inconsistent tone and not knowing when to stop takes a likable cast and disappointingly throws them into an overlong, preposterous and dramatically flabby movie. Rated R for language, sexual content and brief nudity.
Playing at Carmike 10, Epic of Hendersonville, Regal Biltmore Grande