We've seen this picture before—but it's still a merry good time.
So say the critics, the majority of whom embraced the Christmas spirit embodied by The Best Man Holiday, director Malcolm D. Lee's sequel to his 1999 African-American rom-com hit, The Best Man.
Despite taking issue with its many story contrivances, what stood out for most reviewers were the winning performances of its reunited cast including Taye Diggs, Sanaa Lathan, Nia Long, Morris Chestnut, Melissa De Sousa, Harold Perrineau, Regina Hall and Terrence Howard.
A Big Chill-like reunion filled with humor and heart, the comedy-drama also offers up a big dollop of mawkishness, a boy band number (!), and a soundtrack slew of Christmas classics that strikes just the right sentimental note and should make The Best Man Holiday a stocking stuffer for years to come.
Here's a roundup of the mostly positive reviews:
• "It's shamelessly manipulative. It's about 15 minutes too long, having, by my count, three separate endings. And yet despite all that, The Best Man Holiday is disarmingly heartwarming," praises The Seattle Times. "The key to the picture's appeal is the sincerity of the performances. The actors play their characters with such depth of feeling that they make even the most clichéd and hokum-drenched situations resonate with unexpected levels of emotional authenticity."
• "The conclusions are familiar—friendship provides support, death makes squabbles seem petty, what's past is past—but far from meaningless," observes The A.V. Club.
• "The Best Man Holiday…will probably be fun and pleasant for those who saw the first film. Those who didn't may feel like they've been dragged to someone else's reunion," opined the Associated Press.
• "All of the cast members deliver smooth, capable performances, but this sequel clarifies why Howard has become the biggest star from the original ensemble…And although the movie turns too sentimental in the final third, there's no denying that there are some emotionally affecting moments to bolster the comedy," wrote The Hollywood Reporter.
• "Lee manages the cross currents of their many relationships more artfully than the first time out, but the more profound change is how much his actors, and his skills in managing them, have grown. The script's sporadic silliness makes every plot turn questionable; how the talent deftly negotiates such goofiness makes the film near-impossible to resist," offered Time Out New York.
• "The Best Man Holiday reunites the characters for a Christmas-weekend house party, and what ensues is like a better-written Tyler Perry movie: too many life crises rooted in too much recycled backstory…[It's] an eggnog that's sticky-sweet and heavy at the same time," declared Entertainment Weekly.
On the other hand, The Wrap was a bit of a scrooge in its pan of the film, noting: "The ending couldn't be more contrived, but again, it's a Christmas movie, and we all have our favorite flavors of seasonal schmaltz. The kind that The Best Man Holiday serves up was…too hard to swallow."
The Best Man Holiday hit theaters on Friday, Nov. 15.
(Originally published on Nov. 14, 2013, at 6:19 a.m. PT)