“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” returns to the colorfully dysfunctional dwelling in Jaipur, India, where its pensioner protagonists relocated from dreary England in the first “Marigold Hotel.” The actors are again terrific, but the syrup and superficiality of the first film, too, are back in this unnecessary sequel.
Director John Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker, now working on their own (Deborah Moggach, whose novel inspired the earlier film, didn’t write a sequel), have continued in the feel-good vein of the frist movie, but the novelty appeal of aging Brits seeking a curry sundown is gone.
The action, reflecting box-office expectations that the surprise 2012 hit didn’t need to consider, contains contrived scenarios, “Slumdog Millionaire”-style dance numbers, and the introduction of Hollywood blood.
Culture shock has subsided when we catch up with the ex-pats, all of whom have expanded their horizons. Acerbic Muriel (Maggie Smith) is co-managing the hotel with overenthusiastic Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel). Widowed Evelyn (Judi Dench) purchases Indian fabrics for a British company. Meek Doug (Bill Nighy), separated from bitter Jean (Penelope Wilton), works as a tour guide, never mind that he knows zip about local sights.
Doug and Evelyn share obvious feelings for each other but can’t quite act on them. Love-seeking Madge (Celia Imrie) is juggling two suitors. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and partner Carol (Diana Hardcastle) have monogamy issues.
Success has prompted Sonny to seek funding for a second hotel. He extends gushing hospitality to American guest Guy Chambers (Richard Gere), believing him to be an undercover inspector sent by potential backer Ty Burle (David Strathairn).
The film is a showcase for some of Britain’s acting treasures, and they indeed are so enjoyable that you cannot bail on their characters. Smith can ace a put-down (“I went with low expectations and came back disappointed”). Dench (who also worked with Madden in “Shakespeare in Love” and “Mrs. Brown”) and Nighy could read the complete tax tables aloud during their characters’ pancake breakfasts and shine.
But this movie immerses these actors in hackneyed plot lines and artificial sunshine and winds up as a mediocre tapestry that may qualify as the year’s top case of wasted ensemble talent.
Glossing over issues such as mortality and disillusionment, it blows the chance to show characters dealing with real-life challenges. Instead, it saddles them with rom-com cliches and dumb misunderstandings.
There is a grim medical diagnosis, but once it’s introduced, the filmmakers seldom address it.
Gere’s character, a potentially interesting study in disappointment, is mired in a hackneyed romance with Sonny’s guarded mother (Lillete Dubey). Strathairn’s character, purportedly a visionary in the retirement-home arena, has a beard more provocative than his dialogue.
We get too much of the overbearing Sonny, whose abundant screen time seems to reflect a mentality demanding a youth element. His wedding nearly upstages the older characters’ stories.
To their credit, Madden and Parker don’t tie every strand into a tidy bow. Let’s hope that’s not because they’re saving the resolutions for another sequel.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel
two and a half stars
Starring Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel
Written by Ol Parker
Directed by John Madden
Running time 2 hours, 2 minutes