A prostitution-based YouTube scandal, an angry pro football player, a promiscuous weed enthusiast, a breech pregnancy, an scheming ghost writer, a cackling Real Housewife, bad parenting skills, a violent brawl, confusingly euphemistic man chats about oral sex, a terminal illness, a wacky freeway race against time, a lip-sync performance of a really great New Edition song complete with matching outfits and spontaneously choreographed dance moves, a nonlip-sync performance of "O Holy Night" by somebody's kids, a funeral, a significant amount of humping and R-rated swears juxtaposed against repeated references to Jesus and "praying on" the many problems of all protagonists, and then more singing, all wrapped up in a big Christmas bow. And you're like, "Dude, you had me at prostitution."
The Best Man Holiday, a long-gestating sequel to 1999's The Best Man, is sort of a breech pregnancy itself, determined to emerge foot- or ass-first into your holiday viewing schedule. As a piece of writing and directing, it's technically indefensible. A Gap billboard for red cashmere scarves comes to life as the cast of that earlier film return for Christmas together. It's a chance to open old wounds, dig up resentments, have sex, cook giant meals, wear expensive clothes and knock around a McMansion-sized diorama of trouble, bitterness, disease, lovelessness and shouting. And then the terrifically appealing cast -- Morris Chestnut, Taye Diggs, Regina Hall, Nia Long, Sanaa Lathan, Terrence Howard -- makes you laugh and you forget that these characters are experiencing what may be the worst Christmas of their lives. Then they make you laugh some more. Then just as you're annoyed again by this or that plot detail that makes no logical or emotional sense, they make you laugh again. And I kind of loved it.
Like an empty-headed summer blockbuster about space robots, Christmas movies are their own, differently tiered brand of film experience. They don't really need to be "good" by normal standards. Have you watched White Christmas lately? It's fairly dumb and I watch it annually. I'm also a nonguilty member of the cult of Love Actually and, like any good cultist, I studiously ignore its Jenga tower of flaws, inconsistencies, ham-fisted attempts at a bland sort of coolness and overall elegance deficiency. And why? Because it's adorable, that's why.
It's always preferable that Christmas movies be well made, obviously. It's A Wonderful Life holds up perfectly, after all, and the occasional quiet, thoughtful, adult drama like Arnaud Desplechin's A Christmas Tale uses the season as counterpoint to themes of loss and estrangement. But most of the time -- and specifically here in this film -- the contemporary exercise in this genre throws a giant wad of everything at the wall and hopes that some of it sticks. Sentimentality, like a suffocating red-and-green wave of shopping mall good cheer, overwhelms the viewing experience and you allow it to be good/not-good/lovable/baffling/offensive/clunky/funny/irritating/cookies. Call it guilty or don't, the pleasure is the same. And you'll be watching the edited-for-boobs-and-f-words version on basic cable next December while you bake gingerbread. Probably the year after that, too.
STAR RATING: 3/5
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