Taye Diggs’ toothpaste-commercial smile—wide, disingenuous, with a perfectly horizontal upper lip and impeccable teeth—gets put to good use in The Best Man Holiday, Malcolm D. Lee’s sequel to his 1999 sleeper hit The Best Man. Diggs plays Harper Stewart, a has-been novelist who’s bounced out of his cushy NYU gig by budget cuts. Unable to sell his latest manuscript, Harper happens upon the idea of writing a biography of Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut), an NFL superstar who used to be his best friend.
The first half of The Best Man Holiday plays like classic farce. Harper—who’s been invited, along with all of The Best Man’s major characters, to spend Christmas at the Sullivans’ New Jersey mansion—struggles to re-ingratiate himself with Lance, all the while secretly jotting notes for his book. There are the usual shared secrets and object-switch shenanigans. Mistakenly picked-up phones, iPads, and notebooks tangle the characters in an increasingly absurd web of subplots.
Like The Best Man, the movie stakes almost everything on its superb ensemble cast, which includes Terrence Howard, Sanaa Lathan, Monica Calhoun, Harold Perrineau, Nia Long, Regina Hall, and Melissa De Sousa. There isn’t a whole lot going on in terms of style; The Best Man Holiday’s soundtrack (“Winter Wonderland,” “This Christmas,” and so on), catalog-photo-ready setting, and countless scenes of characters arguing imbue it with the atmosphere of a department store around mid-December. It’s a testament to the actors’ sense of character that most of the material works, despite some missteps on Lee’s part. (The opening credits, which combine footage from the original film with Photoshopped magazine covers and newspapers, are groan-worthy.)
Partway through, one of the characters reveals a terminal cancer diagnosis, and the movie begins sliding into seriousness. While The Best Man Holiday doesn’t have anything especially original to say on the subject, it’s still refreshing to see a reunion movie set aside the usual themes of aging and reconciliation to focus on how a group deals with death. The conclusions are familiar—friendship provides support, death makes squabbles seem petty, what’s past is past—but far from meaningless.