It seems quite apt that "The Best Man Holiday," a film about a reunion of old friends, feels just like going to an actual reunion. In ways both bad and good.
A reunion, you see, is only fun if you went to the school and recognize your friends. It's certainly not fun if you didn't, but were dragged along anyway. In that case, you'll likely end up drinking white wine in a paper cup alone by a wall, watching everyone else get silly.
Likewise, "The Best Man Holiday," Malcom 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.
And that's too bad, because the cast, reunited here, is largely excellent, led by the ever-charismatic Taye Diggs as Harper, an author with a fatal flaw: he can't seem to stop writing about his friends and lovers.
It's not the fault of the cast that these characters seem less fully formed the second time around. It's the fault of a script (also by Lee) that takes shortcuts, goes for sentimental overload, gets a little too swept up in holiday trappings, and telegraphs plot developments in often groan-worthy ways. (A character inadvertently leaves an iPad containing secret material sitting on a counter. Do we really then need an ominous close-up of that iPad lying there? Give us a little credit!)
Those who saw the charming and refreshing "The Best Man" will remember that the plot centered on a wedding. This time, it's Christmas that brings everyone together. If you like Christmas soundtracks, you're in luck: there at least 15 Christmas songs here. If you don't like your Christmas music so early in the season, that's another matter.
The setting is the suburban mansion of Lance and Mia, who married in the first movie. Lance (Morris Chestnut) is a star with the New York Giants playing his last season, and chasing an NFL record for rushing, with time running out. Mia (Monica Calhoun) is still sweet and thoughtful, and decides to hold a Christmas reunion.
That includes Harper (Diggs) and Robyn (the lovely Sanaa Lathan), married and expecting their first child. Harper's first book, a novel that caused all sorts of trouble in the first film, was a huge success, but as this movie begins, he's under financial pressure. His agent suggests a winner: An autobiography with his friend the big football star. Cue more trouble.
Then there's Jordan (an appealing Nia Long), the single and ambitious TV producer who carried a torch for Harper. She's now dating a white man, Brian (Eddie Cibrian), a relationship that her friends comment on, but is not explored much in the movie. Julian (Harold Perrinau), who had freed himself from the vampy and manipulative Shelby (Melissa de Sousa) by the end of the first film, is now married to the sweet-hearted former stripper Candace (Regina Hall).
And happily, Terrence Howard is back to reprise his role of the rascally but somehow wise Quentin. .
And the hijinks begin. Said hijinks include an amusing boy-band number performed on the fly by the guys (We hate to be Scrooge here, but really, this number was clearly choreographed professionally and rehearsed for many hours), and some arguments that develop into fistfights (Why do so many romantic comedies have to include women attacking each other physically, over a man?).
There are, of course, old scores to settle. There's also a tragic twist that becomes a major plot point. You will very likely cry at certain moments.
But again, it's like a reunion. If you already know these characters, you're good. If you don't, you'll be standing against that wall, alone, with that wine in a paper cup.
"The Best Man Holiday," a Universal Studios release, is rated R by the Motion Picture Association of America for "language, sexual content and brief nudity." Running time: 122 minutes. Two and a half stars out of four.