'Best Man Holiday' unwraps too many plots

6:22 PM, Nov 14, 2013   |    comments
Taye Diggs, left, Morris Chestnut, Harold Perrineau and Terrence Howard perform in 'The Best Man Holiday.' (Photo: Michael Gibson, Universal Pictures)
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Faith, football, flirting and fisticuffs are a big part of the festivities in The Best Man Holiday.

This reunion (** out of four; rated R; opens Friday nationwide) of major players from the 1999 rom-comThe Best Man is as rowdy and rooted in religion as its predecessor, which also starred Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Terrence Howard and Harold Perrineau as college friends.

Nearly 15 years have elapsed since the original film, so the opening credits feel like a backward-looking trailer. Highlights of the first movie are cobbled together in a chain of visual snippets and catchy phrases. It doesn't work, and the scattered montage leads to a cluttered movie. Only a few charming tidbits are nestled snugly in this over-stuffed Christmas stocking.

Merriment and light mayhem during a long Christmas weekend house party at a stately mansion are overshadowed by the melodramatic treatment of terminal disease. The setting is like the American equivalent of Downton Abbey, and the intrigue and gossip could rival the BBC show.

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The estate is inhabited by football star Lance Sullivan (Chestnut), his wife Mia (Monica Calhoun) and their four young children. Lance and Mia are hosting seven college pals for a few days of what is meant to be luxurious relaxation and yuletide celebration. But amid the tree trimming and dinner parties, secrets are exposed, old wounds reopen and pummeling ensues.

It's mystifying why people portrayed as intelligent, successful, attractive and good-hearted have to descend into catfights and brawling worthy of the worst reality TV.

Harper Stewart (Diggs) wrote a best seller about his college years, but is in a writing slump. To make matter worse, he just lost his day job. He's understandably worried about the future given that his wife, Robyn (Sanaa Lathan), is due to give birth on New Year's Eve.

His agent (John Michael Higgins) suggests he write a book about his famous footballer buddy Lance, so Harper conducts covert research during the weekend.

Lance has clear-cut values: God, family and football. But he sure can hold a grudge. He's never forgiven Harper for having a one-night stand with Mia back in college. He kneels in prayer quite a bit during the movie.

And speaking of falling on one's knees, there is a lovely rendition of O Holy Night by the only occasionally seen children of the revelers.

In contrast, a scene depicting all the couples coupling to the accompaniment of The Christmas Song seems a weird marriage of visuals and musical accompaniment. Chestnuts roasting hardly seem the lyrics to inspire thoughts of carnal pleasures. But maybe chestnuts light the fires of writer-director Malcolm D. Lee. Or he figured a holiday-inspired romantic montage was necessary to gird us for the nasty spats and resentments that ensue.

Some funny lines (including a risqué interpretation of the term "stimulus package") and comical repartee are interspersed among the maudlin moments. But too many major life events and career climaxes are packed into these few days. Despite some likable performances from this appealing ensemble cast - and Diggs stands above the pack - sentimental schmaltz competes with slapstick silliness for an uneven result.

The contrived story suffers from holiday season clutter. It's like the movie version ofThe 12 Days of Christmas: Eleven players footballing, seven friends ladling food for the needy, four buddies dancing, two ladies fighting and one baby born in a speeding SUV.


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