The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel

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Everything that worked in 2011’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel—a fully-lived in collection of senior characters going through crisis, reinvention, love and death played by a sterling cast of grand thesps investing a perfect blend of humor and pathos—is missing from its formulaic, by the numbers sequel, which amps up the situational comedy and inexplicably chooses to focus on the wedding shenanigans of one of the least interesting characters.  The focus is way off, and consequently, so is our investment.  This time around it is all plot and little character, and that is a giant waste.

Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Proof) and screenwriter Ol Parker have returned along with the original’s entire cast, lending a comfortable, easy-fit pedigree to the proceedings. But instead of further developing the characters or offering anything as remotely involving as the first picture—Tom Wilkinson’s poignant lost love, Bill Nighy’s delicate courtship of Judi Dench, Maggie Smith’s gradual thawing and most especially, the sting of bitter Penelope Wilton (again contributing some of the best chops)—this sequel inexplicably focuses on the wrong characters until its final moments, which are too little, too late.

Picture kicks off in the United States with hotel proprietor Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel, alternately grating and winning) and manager Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) seeking American financing for a new venue—The Second Best… Well, you get it.  Financing hinges on the contrivance of an anonymous inspection (how anonymous can you be at a hotel where roll call is taken every morning?).  Hint: There are two new characters introduced, so the odds are fairly even.

Back home in India, Evelyn Greenslade (Judi Dench, given little to do this time) finds job security in the textiles industry while Douglas Ainslie continues his befuddled, would-be courtship; sensualist Madge (Celia Imrie) is still on the make for a new beau; and Norman (Ronald Pickup) becomes highly suspicious that new love Carol (Diana Hardcastle) is involved in illicit affairs.

But the real engine driving the plot this time around finds harried Sonny preparing to marry dream girl Sunaina (Tina Desai) while fending off romantic rivals.  Into the mix comes a dashing American novelist played by Richard Gere, present to set libidos aflame and raise curiosities about the true nature of his visit.

This sets up a hoary, by the numbers romance between Gere’s silver fox mystery man and the rigidly pragmatic Mrs. Kapoor (Lillete Dubey) culminating in a dinner date rife with dialogue so purple as not to be believed, hung on a hackneyed literary metaphor that must have been a mouthful to recite straight-faced. Don’t actors question such nonsense?

Smith does a herculean job adding depth to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, and while there are strong allusions to a potential health crisis in the final reel (and perhaps an earlier cut), Parker never quite goes there.

Forgiving audiences with short memories may find this all to go down easy, but The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is a waste of a seasoned ensemble, their gravitas not required. Instead, they are called upon to dance joyously at an extravagantly lavish Indian wedding ceremony (is there any other kind of Indian wedding in the movies?).

Whatever The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel may be—chiefly, a sitcom piqued with a few touching moments courtesy of Smith—it is quite a fall from the first movie, lacking the seriousness in tone and any particular substance, a stale retread that gets a bit of mileage out of its warm cast but gives them nothing compelling to do.

Not recommended.

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