Fourteen years after writer-director Malcolm D. Lee's romantic comedy "The Best Man" hit theaters, the filmmaker and his ensemble cast are back with a sequel, "The Best Man Holiday." As is often the case when old friends reunite, it doesn't take long for past grudges and attractions to bubble back up.
According to reviews, the cast, led by Taye Diggs and Morris Chestnut, proves to be very pleasant company, but Lee's overstuffed script drags the movie down.
The Times' Betsy Sharkey writes, "Be ready to reach for a tissue, say 'amen' and sigh more than a few times, for the film has all the chaos and clutter of a big holiday gathering." She adds, "Even with excesses, the performances are solid. If anything, the intervening years have given Lee a far more seasoned cast, and they do much to keep the film from completely unraveling, a constant threat."
Calling "Holiday" Lee's most ambitious film, Sharkey writes: "There is so much the writer-director wants to say about God, faith, fame, family and affluent African American life. The result is a joyous, raucous, righteous film but also a frustrating and disappointing one. Not quite the gift of the season some had hoped for."
Ann Hornaday of the Washington Post similarly says, "There's no denying that the maudlin, message-y machinery of 'The Best Man Holiday' often threatens to collapse of its own self-conscious weight. This is a one-two-three-four-hankie movie that misses no opportunity to wring a few tears, no matter how shameless." As with the first film, Hornaday adds, "it's the actors who bring warmth, humanity and compulsive watchability to every moment … no matter how ersatz, overprocessed or manipulative. In other words, you don’t go to 'The Best Man Holiday' to deconstruct its flaws. You go for its myriad, adamantly un-cerebral pleasures."
The Boston Globe's Peter Keough writes, "one thing that has stayed the same is [Lee's] sassy dialogue … and the cast's talent for delivering it with panache, nuance, and expert timing. That, and Lee's unfortunate weakness for trite bromides and pat plot resolutions. Luckily there's a lot to keep us entertained before things take a turn for the worse."
What it adds up to, Keough says, is "maybe the best 90 minutes of romantic comedy in theaters this fall. Unfortunately, the film is 122 minutes long."
Mick LaSalle of the San Francisco Chronicle laments, "The people in 'The Best Man Holiday' — not just the actors, but the characters they play — deserved a better script than this. … [I]t's not all bad. It's just part bad: It suffers from cliches and corniness, from the same kinds of scenes played over and over, and from more false endings than the last 'Lord of the Rings' movie."
And yet, the film still "has something," LaSalle says. "[E]ven after we give up on the movie, we don't give up on the characters."
The Chicago Tribune's Michael Phillips says that "ensemble pictures live or die on the same simple question: Do we enjoy hanging out with these people for a couple of hours?" With "The Best Man Holiday," he says, "hangout factor remains gratifyingly high." He adds that "some of the writing is pungently funny" and "in particular it's a treat to see [Terrence] Howard mess around so entertainingly, after so many dramas, in a brashly comic role."
In the end, "the movie, while nothing visually special, earns its queen-sized dose of pathos honestly."
Finally, Jocelyn Noveck of the Associated Press sums things up by comparing the film to an actual reunion: "A reunion, you see, is only fun if you went to the school and recognize your friends. … Likewise, 'The Best Man Holiday,' Malcolm D. Lee's sequel to his (much better) 1999 'The Best Man,' will probably be fun and pleasant for those who saw the first film. Those who didn't may feel like they've been dragged to someone else's reunion."