In 1999, filmmaker Malcolm D. Lee, Spike’s cousin, made his directorial debut with a lightly likable ensemble dramedy “The Best Man.”
The new sequel, “The Best Man Holiday,” revisits the characters 14 years later. Not much has changed; the result is still lightly likable.
At times clumsy and stale, it employs not one but two “lie plots,” wherein, if characters simply told the truth, there would be no movie.
Yet the enormously appealing characters still generate genuine warmth and laughs.
The movie begins with a quick update. Harper (Taye Diggs) published his best-seller, but has struggled in the years since. And now his wife, Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), is pregnant.
Lance (Morris Chestnut) is a pro football star on the verge of breaking the all-time rushing record. He’s happily married, to Mia (Monica Calhoun), with four children.
Julian (Harold Perrineau) runs a charter school with his wife, Candace (Regina Hall). Jordan (Nia Long) is an award-winning TV producer, Shelby (Melissa De Sousa) is a reality TV star and Quentin (Terrence Howard) is still a slick, swinging single.
They all gather at Lance’s mansion for Christmas.
The “lie plots” come in when Harper’s agent persuades him to write Lance’s biography; for some reason, Harper starts researching and making notes without actually asking Lance about the idea.
Meanwhile, Julian has lost a big donor because an old video of his wife performing oral sex for money has appeared on the web. Rather than confront her about it, he fumes and frets until the situation ruptures.
Sadly, one of the characters has cancer, and so the movie has its share of tears and praying. We also get some annoying coincidences and misunderstandings.
Never fear: A baby will be born by the final reel, a creaky old idea that hasn’t been used in years.
As with the first movie, Lee’s focus is on characters and dialogue, rather than visuals or moods. The Christmas songs and decorations somehow don’t add much. The movie feels a bit too flat and sterile to be very festive.
The characters don’t generate a special holiday warmth, perhaps because their bond is not familial, but a bond between people who choose to be together.
Yet in one appealing scene, the friends perform a cheerfully ridiculous lip-sync to an old New Edition song, and fall right back into routines from decades earlier. This wonderful, funny shorthand works — and may even work again 15 years from now in “The Best Man Retirement.”
The Best Man Holiday
Starring Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Morris Chestnut
Written and directed by Malcolm D. Lee