"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" lives up to its name, a pale shadow of its vivacious 2012 predecessor about silver-haired Brits finding new life at a dilapidated hotel in India.
Of course, the filmmakers meant the title as a clever play, as young Indian entrepreneur Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) aims to open a second hotel in the course of the (overly jumbled) story. But still, a movie sequel that seems to declare itself "second best" should at least gain points for honesty.
"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" was a smart and lively dramedy from director John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") and screenwriter Ol Parker, who return for the sequel. The basic gist was about English pensioners who find they can't afford a life of quiet ease in their home country, and decamp for the lavishly overpraised Exotic Marigold.
In the end the grimy little hotel got fixed up, as did the lives of the aging Westerners who came here expecting something, and found something quite else. All their storylines got tied up in nice little bows ... and would've stayed that way, except when your $10 million film grosses $137 million worldwide.
Sequels, unnecessary except on an accountant's ledger, become a foregone conclusion.
The main players all return, with new challenges or extensions of their old ones. Widow Evelyn (Judi Dench) is happy doing a little work for a clothing company, until they offer her a full-time job with a team to manage. Her heart's with Douglas (Bill Nighy), an amiable tour guide who split up with his wife at the end of the last movie. But in the classic quandary that befalls only movie characters, neither will simply admit their feelings until the right moment and swell of music comes along.
Persnickety spinster Muriel (Maggie Smith) is busy running the hotel with Sonny, who is soon to be wed to the lovely Sunaina (Tena Desae), if he can keep his jealousy toward an old friend and competitor in check long enough. Sonny wants to buy another nearby hotel and expand the Marigold business model ("Why not die here?"), and needs backing from an American hotel chain, for some reason.
Sonny is living in fear that the would-be partner has sent an evaluator to check out his establishment, and who should show up on his doorstep just in time but a fetching American named Guy (Richard Gere), who claims to be writing a novel by mostly has eyes for Sonny's mother (Lillete Dubey), for reasons that remain mysterious to her, and us.
"The man is so handsome, he has me urgently questioning my own sexuality!" Sonny exclaims, in a typical over-the-top bit of Indian bebop.
Other characters' troubles mostly concern matters of the heart, with former ladies man Norman (Ronald Pickup) worried that his lady friend is stepping out on him. And on-the-make Madge (Celia Imrie) has not one but two rich older Indian gentlemen ready to propose to her, yet seems to hold the most meaningful conversations with her humble driver.
"The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" is a pretty transparent attempt to capture lightning in a bottle twice. It's not a bad little flick, and with Dames Smith and Dench around there's no shortage of tart retorts and looks freighted with meaning.
But it's a retread that's tired out of the gate, a contrivance of characters we know will arrive at their fated destinations promptly at the two-hour mark. Predestined, that is, unless this one does well enough to demand a third-best iteration.