Flawed but functional characters humanize rom com 'Best Man' sequel

Even if you missed Malcolm D. Lee's 1999 directorial debut and sleeper comedy "The Best Man," that shouldn't significantly blunt your understanding or appreciation of his tardy sequel "The Best Man Holiday."

The opening credits of this comic soap-opera quickly whisk through scenes from the 14-year-old original, as if truncated clips will suddenly bring viewers up to speed on these characters.

They don't.

But that doesn't matter. It only takes a few scenes to catch up with this community of African-American friends and lovers, even if you've never seen them before.

The original's best man, novelist Harper (reprised by Taye Diggs), has been victimized by a failing economy and a bad case of writers block. He hasn't written anything since his autobiographical best-seller. Now his chef wife, Robin (Sanaa Lathan), is pregnant and they can't pay the bills.

Meanwhile, Harper's now-estranged best bud Lance (Morris Chestnut), a running back for the New York Giants, is about to call it a career right after he breaks some rushing records.

Harper realizes that a book about his super-athlete pal will save his career. But since their falling out, Harper and Lance's relationship is trapped in the deep freeze.

Wait. Lance is throwing a big holiday party at his posh mansion and inviting all his best friends, many from the 1999 cast list.

If Harper and Robin go, maybe, just maybe, he can persuade Lance to bury the hatchet, not in him, and consent to let him write his life story.

That's the main plot connecting the rom-com threads in Lee's sequel, a sprawling, meandering domestic examination of the mess we all call life.

Also up on the invitation list: TV producer Jordan (Nia Long) dating a really cute white attorney (Eddie Cibrian); Julian (Harold Perrineau) and his former stripper spouse Candace (Regina Hall); hot-tottie "Real Housewives" spinoff star Shelby (Melissa Del Sousa); confirmed bachelor and stoner dude Quentin (Chicago's own Terrence Howard); plus Lance's wife (Monica Calhoun) and their kids.

Lee moves "The Best Man Holiday" along on greased wheels.

And if the humorous setups are a bit pat and if cutting away to comedy relief-hitter Howard after every major dramatic blowup gets a little old, "Best Man Holiday" at least shows us an economic cross-section of flawed but functional African-Americans dealing with realistic problems, conflicts, regrets, temptations, trust, sex and dreams.

“The Best Man Holiday”

★ ★ ½

Starring: Taye Diggs, Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Terrence Howard, Harold Perrineau, Monica Calhoun

Directed by: Malcolm D. Lee

Other: A Universal Pictures release. Rated R for language, nudity and sexual situations. 109 minutes

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