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‘The Best Man Holiday’: This clique still clicks

‘THE BEST MAN HOLIDAY’ ★★★

Lance Morris Chestnut

Harper Taye Diggs

Quentin Terrence Howard

Robin Sanaa Lathan

Jordan Nia Long

Universal Pictures presents a film written and directed by Malcolm L. Lee. Running time: 122 minutes. Rated R (for language, sexual content and brief nudity). Opens Friday at local theaters.

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Updated: December 16, 2013 6:08AM



With “The Best Man Holiday,” we welcome two major elements rarely seen in mainstream movies:

1. With the exception of a white-guy boyfriend who disappears for much of the story, every major character in this film is black.

2. Some of the main characters actually pray. And talk about faith. And sing praise to Jesus. And look to God for answers.

I know. Revolutionary, right?

Writer-director Malcolm D. Lee’s follow-up to 1999’s “The Best Man” reunites some familiar (and still really good-looking) faces, about 15 years past their college days. As was the case in the original film, the talented and enormously likable cast have terrific, natural chemistry playing off each other, whether they’re ribbing one another, getting into some knockdown, drag-out fights — or stepping up in a time of crisis. If there were a way to get everyone on board for a continuing TV series, you’d want to drop in on them every week.

Taye Diggs is author Harper Stewart, who has enjoyed some best-seller success in years past but is now in a writing slump, with his agent telling him his latest novel isn’t even going to be published. Bad timing, as Harper also just lost his teaching gig, and the bills are piling up from years of expensive fertility treatments. Blessedly, Harper’s wife Robin (Sanaa Lathan) is finally pregnant and on the verge of delivering their first child. How she’s put up with his brooding all these years is another issue.

Also facing a money crisis is Harold Perrineau’s Murch, who runs a charter-type school that depends mostly on private funding. Murch has lost a major benefactor over a viral video crisis that brings his wife Candy’s stripper past back to haunt them — something Candy, an administrator at the school, knows nothing about. And in the most emotionally involving storyline, Morris Chestnut’s Lance (now a star running back with the New York Giants, on the verge of breaking the single-season rushing mark) and Monica Calhoun’s Mia seem to have it all — four beautiful children, a happy marriage, an enormous home — but this very close, loving, spiritual family is facing the ultimate test.

That’s one of the things I admired about “The Best Man Holiday.” Lee’s characters openly discuss their faith, and at times the film is wonderfully, unapologetically spiritual. These old friends are gathering at Lance and Mia’s giant McMansion not for the holidays, but for CHRISTMAS. They’re going to sing about Jesus’ birthday and they’re going to attend church, and you’re even going to see some of these characters on their knees, looking to God for answers.

Not that “The Best Man Holiday” is all serious, all the time. There’s quite a bit of randy conversation that will have you cringing while you’re laughing — as much from the women as the men — and some sharp comedic moments, most of them courtesy of Terrence Howard’s ever-hedonistic Quentin and Melissa De Sousa’s insufferable but undeniably sexy Shelby, now a reality star in one of those “Real Housewives” abominations.

“The Best Man Holiday” wobbles a bit midway through the movie with an unnecessary dance number that should have played over the closing credits. We’re also asked to endure one of the more ridiculous childbirth scenes in motion picture history. Still, there’s something pretty special about this cast, all of whom turn in excellent performances while alternating between light comedy and some seriously heavy dramatic lifting.

One hopes we don’t have to wait more than a decade to see these characters again.

Email: rroeper@suntimes.com

Twitter: @richardroeper



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