-By Doris Toumarkine

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Malcolm D. Lee has gone on record as saying he was striving to make a commercial movie with The Best Man and, to a large extent, he succeeds. With this exercise in filmmaking by the numbers, Lee expertly tells the story of 'best man' Harper (Taye Diggs), a novelist summoned to his best buddy Lance's (Morris Chestnut) wedding to Mia (Monica Calhoun). Marriage scares Harper, in spite of a promising relationship with Robin (Sanaa Lathan), who stays behind. Will Harper be emboldened by Lance's journey down the aisle?

Predictably, but also satisfyingly, Big Chill/Four Weddings and a Funeral/Secaucus Seven/My Best Friend's Wedding dramatics are triggered as Lance's many friends gather in New York for the nuptials and unleash old passions and jealousies. Things heat up when the attractive and aggressive Jordan (Nia Long), Harper's former roommate and a near-conquest, threatens Harper's relationship with the girl he left behind.

The pre-nuptial climate is further disrupted by the discovery that Harper's new novel may have unnerving parallels in real life. Among those in the clique who may be overexposed or slighted by the tome are the skirt-chasing Quentin (Terrence Howard), nice guy Murch (Harold Perrineau), and Candy (Regina Hall), the poetic stripper.

Lee delivers extremely likeable and believable characters. Diggs is especially appealing and Howard, playing a sly but lovable cynic, is the film's most intriguing creation. Production values are fine and shown off most effectively in the splashy party scenes. Yes, the genre is familiar, as are the conflicts and the ultimate resolution. But, like the wedding at its heart, The Best Man is a festive few hours that often delights.

Per several reports, first-weekend filmgoers were overwhelmingly from the African-American community. It will take crossover audiences to give the film the box-office honeymoon it deserves.

--Doris Toumarkine

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