The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel **1/2

This return to the Marigold Hotel has charm but lacks drama

Is it worth $10? Yes

Most of “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” takes place in Jaipur, India, so naturally the film starts in San Diego. Because apparently there are no investors in their city, country, continent or hemisphere, Sonny (Dev Patel) and Muriel (Maggie Smith) have ventured to the west coast of the U.S. looking for funding to build a second hotel. As anyone whose seen “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” (2011) will attest, people go Sonny’s hotel to die and don’t leave until they do, which can create overcrowding.

This is a sequel with good intentions and lackluster execution. Most of the gang from the first film checks back in for the follow-up, and all are living sprightly. Evelyn (Judi Dench) has a career in buying fabrics and a budding romance with Doug (Bill Nighy), who’s still entangled with his estranged wife; Madge (Celia Imrie) finds herself torn between two wealthy suitors; Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) struggle to be happy together; and Sonny, in the throws of procuring a second hotel (keep in mind he can barely run the first hotel, even with Muriel’s help), is about to marry Sunaina (Tina Desai).

Fresh from the San Diego meeting, Sonny is convinced that a new guest at the hotel, Guy Chambers (Richard Gere), is a spy for the investors, while the other new guest (Tamsin Greig) is a mere nuisance. He’s also convinced Sunaina is going to leave him for her old friend Kushal (Shazad Latif). Were it not for Dev Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”) getting consistent laughs from Sonny’s perpetual foot-in-mouth problem these scenarios would get old fast.

And that’s the interesting thing about the film: None of it is all that stirring, but it is a nice adult drama that’s perfectly pleasant to watch. Some of the storylines are serious, some forced (we probably don’t need Guy attracted to Sonny’s mom (Lillete Dubey), or actor David Strathairn popping up in San Diego, good as he is), and some are played for laughs – one running joke has Norman convinced he’s inadvertently ordered Carol’s assassination, which forces him to go to great lengths to stop it. If only the rest of Ol Parker’s script and John Madden’s (“Shakespeare In Love”) direction pushed this hard creatively.

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A word on the title. It’s not clever, and it doesn’t work. The instant someone hears “second best” about anything it is immediately dismissed as second rate, leaving anyone with discerning taste to keep looking for something better. The title in its entirety doesn’t make sense either, as it describes a small subplot that’s hardly a driving force amongst myriad storylines. “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is an apt description only in the sense that it is inferior to its predecessor, which was a real charmer about elderly people finding vitality in their lives after they feared all was lost. The sequel engenders that same spirit, but isn’t up to par in terms of overall quality.

Did you know?
Director John Madden directed Judi Dench to a supporting actress Oscar win for “Shakespeare In Love” in 1998.

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