The last time we saw the nine raucous, irresistible college buddies of “The Best Man Holiday” was back in the Clinton administration, when we met them in 1999’s “The Best Man.” Much has changed in the professional fortunes and romantic relationships of the characters since then, but one thing that has stayed the same is their sassy dialogue — from writer/director Malcolm D. Lee — 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. New York Giants football star Lance (Morris Chestnut) and his wife, Mia (Monica Calhoun), have invited the crew to get together for Christmas at their home, which seems modeled on Downton Abbey. Lance even includes his former best friend and noted author Harper (Taye Diggs) and Harper’s precariously pregnant wife, Robyn (Sanaa Lathan). As you might remember, Lance has had it in for Harper since the original movie because of some kiss-and-tell Harper included in his best-selling, semi-autobiographical novel. Harper, for his part, still has a torch smoldering for self-sufficient career woman Jordan (Nia Long), now director of programming at MSNBC (for some reason, Hollywood scriptwriters’ go-to network). Meanwhile, the advances in new media haven’t made life any easier for married couple Julian (Harold Perrineau) and Candy (Regina Hall), especially after Candy shows up on YouTube in an incriminating old video.
It’s a volatile mix, especially when ignited by the gibes of Julian’s ex-girlfriend Shelby (Melissa De Sousa), now the gleefully outrageous star of the tawdry TV show “Housewives of Westchester,” and the irrepressibly inappropriate ramblings of perpetually stoned loose cannon Quentin (Terrence Howard, in one of the year’s most hilarious supporting performances).
Lee orchestrates their exchanges with operatic aplomb, and everything looks lush and luminous — from the impeccable wardrobe to the blue lights on the shrubbery to the red peppers in a bowl of vegetables — even when things get physical and the yuletide decorations take the brunt of it. Nor do the tale’s refreshingly unapologetic religious asides interrupt the hilarity for long, though a hint of patriarchal gender stereotypes might raise some eyebrows.
All in all, maybe the best 90 minutes of romantic comedy in theaters this fall. Unfortunately, the film is 122 minutes long. Apparently Lee couldn’t decide which of half a dozen or so mawkish, manipulative, improbable, unintentionally laughable, holiday-centric endings he wanted to use, so he went with them all. In the press kit the studio requests that reviewers “not reveal plot points toward the film’s climax and conclusion.” That’s fine by me. If only they had kept them under wraps altogether.Peter Keough can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.