By Rob Blackwelder
An ensemble reunion comedy revolving around an approaching wedding, "The Best Man" is a slightly klutzy charmer about friendship and sex-related secrets within a group of former college buddies.
The lethally handsome Taye Diggs stars in the title role, as a soon-to-be-published author whose new novel contains a barely-disguised passage about a clandestine liaison between himself and a character in his story that rather closely resembles the bride.
The plot: Keep the advanced copy of the book -- entitled "Unfinished Business" and now making its way around the clique gathering for the wedding -- from falling into the groom's hands until after his nuptials, because when he reads what's in there he might change his mind.
Of course, this begs the question: If the groom is going to find out anyway (i.e. when the book comes out) and such information might damage his marriage, wouldn't letting him know before the wedding be the honorable thing to do? Am I the only one who thinks this couple should have all their cards on the table before getting hitched?
If you ask me, these people aren't quality friends.
But if you can set such questions aside -- and that's a big "if" -- "The Best Man" is a funny, affectionate charmer full of excellent performances from a cast of up-and-coming actors.
Despite his questionable motives, Diggs (who himself just starred as a cold-footed groom in "The Wood") plays his seductive character's flaws with a refreshing sense of sincerity. He's afraid of commitment himself and being a best man makes him a little nervous -- and not just because he slept with the bride behind his buddy's back in college.
The beautiful, sassy Nia Long ("Stigmata," "In Too Deep," "Soul Food") is a subplot unto herself as Diggs' one-that-got-away, now a career-driven TV director at BET and a bride's maid. Will Diggs cheat on the girlfriend he has yet to introduce to the gang?
Morris Chestnut ("G.I.Jane," "Boyz N the Hood") is the highly religious groom and star NFL player with a slow but vicious temper, who after philandering with an endless string of bimbos as a college football hero has committed himself to his bride. Judgmental but uncomfortable in his double standards, he takes solace in the mistaken belief that she's has only been with him.
Monica Calhoun ("The Player's Club," "Bagdad Cafe") plays affectionate bride-to-be who radiates sweetness and innocence.
Written and directed by Malcolm Lee (Spike's cousin), "The Best Man" is flawed in its belief that everything would be OK if Chestnut found out about his wife and his best friend after the wedding.
It also focuses exclusively on the men. Except for Long's role, the female characters are vaguely drawn and the bride's feelings on her school daze one-nighter with Diggs are never even addressed. When the you-know-what hits the fan, no one even bothers to tell her the cat is out of the bag.
In Lee's script, women seem to be of little consequence beyond being objects of desire or loathing (one buddy -- Harold Perrineau from HBO's "Oz" -- has a ruthless harpy of a girlfriend whose control over him is ridiculed by his friends).
Funny thing is, I asked a few women at the screening I attended if they were bothered by this and none of them seemed to notice, so maybe I'm out of line. They all had the hots for the most misogynistic character in the movie, too -- a smack-talking smooth operator played with wicked intent by Terrence Howard ("Mr. Holland's Opus," "Player's Club"). Go figure.
Lee spins an engaging yarn of funny and true-to-life emotional complexities, but his characters resolve all their issues far to easily as the closing credits begin to loom.
I liked "The Best Man" for its humor, its interesting and fleshy (if emotionally dim-witted) characters and for Lee's intelligent direction that makes viewers think and discover these people's strengths and weaknesses for themselves, instead of simplifying and road-mapping every characters' every thought and feeling with expository dialogue.
I just wish it could have been as deep and honest as Lee clearly intended. Romantic comedy-dramas revolving around emotionally immature men are beginning to wear thin.
Run time: 120 mins
In Theaters: Friday 22nd October 1999
Box Office Worldwide: $34.1M
Distributed by: Universal Pictures
Production compaines: Universal Pictures, 40 Acres & A Mule Filmworks
Contactmusic.com: 2.5 / 5
Rotten Tomatoes: 72%
Fresh: 51 Rotten: 20
IMDB: 6.6 / 10
Director: Malcolm Lee
Starring: Nia Long as Jordan Armstrong, Morris Chestnut as Lance Sullivan, Harold Perrineau Jr. as Julian Murch, Terrence Howard as Quentin, Sanaa Lathan as Robin, Taye Diggs as Harper Stewart, Regina Hall as Candy, Monica Calhoun as Mia Morgan
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