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THE BEST MAN

by: Michael Dequina

If you ask me, it's impossible to not like a film that ends with the entire cast doing the electric slide to Cameo's '80s funk classic "Candy." But there's more to enjoy in The Best Man than its infectious full company closing dance number. First-time writer-director Malcolm D. Lee's fresh and fun ensemble comedy is a classy effort that delivers the requisite doses of laughs and romance along with a fair amount of intelligence.

As the title implies, the central event in The Best Man is a wedding, that between football star Lance Sullivan (Morris Chestnut) and his longtime love Mia (Monica Calhoun). The blessed event reunites a number of the couple's college friends, including Murch (Harold Perrineau Jr.), henpecked by longtime girlfriend Shelby (Melissa DeSousa); self-styled player Quentin (Terrence Howard); successful BET television producer Jordan Armstrong (Nia Long); and of course the best man himself, author Harper Stewart (Taye Diggs), who is shy to committing to long-suffering girlfriend Robin (Sanaa Lathan). He shakes up what could have been a smooth and blissful reunion when an advance copy of soon-to-be-published novel--not-so-loosely based on his and his friends' dirty little secrets--makes the rounds within this tightly-knit circle.

This is the film's one aggravating contrivance. Harper did not see any harm in airing his personal dirty laundry in the book because it was scheduled to be released after the big reunion at the wedding and hence wouldn't have to face everyone about it--or endanger Lance and Mia's impending nuptials. In the latter respect, it's understandable why he would not want his friends did not see the book until its release, but even once the two are wed, they and the others would eventually get upset with him anyway. And Harper is presented as someone who values friendship, not to mention a great writer; he is mentioned to be set for an appearance on Oprah for his book. With the plot of his book so closely mirroring his real-life past, Harper doesn't appear to be that imaginative an author.

But one doesn't dwell on the issue since Lee's own writing and execution is energetic and entertaining. The Best Man may be named for one character, but this is an ensemble film in the best sense, with all the characters each given their moments to shine and doing so brilliantly. In fact, Harper is perhaps the least interesting of the bunch; far more amusing are the smooth, smug womanizer Quentin and the shrewish Shelby, both played to perfection by Howard and DeSousa. This is not to say that the two most central players, Diggs and Long, fail to hold their own; blessed with talent and chemistry to match their good looks, they make for very captivating and likable leads.

As many times as I laughed during The Best Man, what I remember most clearly are the sweet and more serious moments. While the scandal of Harper's book is the engine of the film, its heart lies in love and fidelity--not just to lovers, but also to friends. The resolution to one of the plot threads may be a disappointment to some audiences, but it ends on the right note, and Lee must be commended for not going for the cheaply crowd-pleasing twist. In any event, any dissatisfaction is completely erased by the closing dance number--a perfect delight of a capper to a perfectly delightful film.

RATING: *** 1/2 (out of *****)

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