By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The key word in the title of the awkwardly titled sequel, The Best Man Holiday, is that last one.

This movie, for better and worse, has the holiday spirit: it makes the audience giddy with pleasure even as it overstays its welcome.

The Best Man, you may recall, was a rollicking romantic comedy from 1999 that royally entertained audiences, so any further excursion into the same narrative territory is likely to fall short.

(3 stars out of 4)

(3 stars out of 4)

But not by as much as you might fear.

The exuberant ensemble romp came from writer-director Malcolm D. Lee, whose uncle — fella by the name of Spike Lee –- served as one of his co-producers.

This Christmas-themed, faith-tinged followup arrives a decade and a half later and in time for the holiday season, a time for warmth and familiarity and forgiveness.

It’s darker and more downbeat than its predecessor, much more of a comedy-drama that chases tears at least as aggressively as it does laughs -– and earns both.

Returning to reprise their roles in the original are Taye Diggs, Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, Terrence Howard, Morris Chestnut, Regina Hall, Harold Perrineau, Monica Calhoun, and Melissa De Sousa.

It’s 14 years later and a group of college friends who used to be very tightly knit reunite for Christmas, confident that the romances and rivalries of long ago have since been forgiven and forgotten and are well behind these having-moved-on thirtysomethings.

Not exactly.

Lee (Undercover Brother; Welcome Home, Roscoe Jenkins, Soul Men; Scary Movie 5) opens with key moments from the original, as a reminder for fans and a primer for the uninitiated.  From then on, he goes for glossy and glamorous, and works the audience-friendly pedal a bit more than he should.

The crowded plot is appropriate and serviceable, involving infertility and ambition and illness and fame and strained friendship and athletic prowess and abiding resentment and a lot of other strands that you should just relax and take in at face value.

But it’s the pleasure of the cast’s company –- their appeal, their chemistry, their comfort, and their comic timing — that delivers the goods.  They glide over every script hiccup with ease, grace, and skill.

R-rated, as was its predecessor, the followup mixes broad, character-driven situation comedy with heart-on-its-sleeve soap opera melodrama.

Lee knocked it out of the park when he debuted with The Best Man.  Now, after several subpar outings, he recovers his directorial stroke, even if less-is-more discipline is ignored in favor of more-is-less plot escalation, and endings travel in packs.

But then there’s that canny, capable cast making spirits bright.

So we’ll reunite 3 stars out of 4 for a sentimental Christmas reunion sequel.  The dramedy of manners, The Best Man Holiday, will have to settle for second best, which is still a gift we won’t be sending back.

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