The Second Best Exotic Marigold HotelDev Patel, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Judi Dench. Directed by John Madden. Rated PG. Opens Friday.
Calling your movie “second best” seems like an invitation for criticism, and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is indeed a step down from its predecessor, which became a surprise international hit in 2012. Not that the first movie was anything great—its bland, affable inoffensiveness is part of what made it so successful, along with appealing to an older demographic too often underserved by the movies. Stacking the cast with wonderful British actors (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, etc.) certainly helped, and the new sequel works best as a sort of victory lap for those late-career performers.
Nearly all of them return (except Wilkinson, whose character died in the first movie) for the continuing story of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a ramshackle retirement home for British pensioners in Jaipur, India. The first movie focused mainly on the culture clash of the stuffy Brits adjusting to chaotic Indian life, but now that they’ve mostly settled in, the focus here shifts to hotel owner Sonny (Dev Patel), a fast-talking dreamer with big plans and bigger insecurities. Sonny was primarily comic relief in the first movie, but here he really takes over the story, which is structured around his impending wedding, and his increased presence is more than a little grating.
Returning director John Madden and screenwriter Ol Parker cram in subplots for all the other characters, along with introducing a few more, most notably a suave American played by Richard Gere. The first film was based on a novel, but this one has to invent original material, and it lacks even the small sense of urgency of its predecessor. The various storylines are mostly half-hearted, centered on the romantic couplings that blossomed in the previous movie. The talented actors make the experience pleasant enough, even if it drags on for too long, and cinematographer Ben Smithard makes Jaipur (along with a brief detour to Mumbai) look gorgeous. But overall it’s the cinematic equivalent of warm oatmeal: It goes down easy, but has almost no flavor.