There are two possible reasons for rushing to see The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, the follow-up to the 2011 smash hit about eccentric Brit retirees living in a tumbledown Rajasthan hotel — home to “the elderly and beautiful” — run by an inept, offbeat, ambitious young entrepreneur. The first is the overwhelming holdover of the good will generated by the sterling cast of scene-stealing returnees including Dames Maggie Smith and Judi Dench and Bill Nighy. The second possible reason is that you want to make nice with your parents by treating them to a night at the movies. Beyond that, you’re pretty much on your own.
Adrift minus the one and only original novel by Deborah Moggach, screenwriter Ol Parker and director John Madden concoct a flimsy plot patched together from the first movie and some Fawlty Towers leftovers with the arrival of mysterious new guests Richard Gere and Tamsin Grieg. The hotel’s young owner Sonny (Dev Patel), about to tie the knot with his lady love (Tina Desai), has his eye out for a second hotel while a U.S. company catering to seniors has sent an undercover inspector to check out the first hotel as a possible investment. Who is the ringer: Gere, a suave American who claims he’s there to write a novel, or Grieg, a Brit who says she’s there to scope out the place for her mother? Elementary.
Meanwhile, Smith’s acid-tongued former nanny character now co-manages the hotel, Dench’s new widow runs a textile importing company and is still being fumblingly courted by the lovelorn, unhappily married Nighy, who, by day, fakes his way as a tour guide. There’s also Celia Imrie, stylish and sexually adventurous, torn between two wealthy local suitors and Ronald Pickup, the mature horndog, who tends bar at the local ex-pat watering hole.
Despite good stuff — like Imrie’s subtle, lovely scene with a taxi driver or a third-act Smith monologue that will make eyes misty — the movie sputters, drags, and lurches from episode to episode, juggling way too many characters and plot complications without having much reason for existing. It’s mostly a collection of would-be snappy one-liners, frantic (and unfunny) chases and misunderstandings, and gobs of gushy sentiment it hasn’t earned. There’s nothing in the whole film to match the elegant, melancholic undertone of the first Marigold’s character arc for barrister Tom Wilkinson’s finding his long-lost love of a lifetime. The movie looks vibrant, though, and most everyone gets paired up by the finale, so that it all ends up with Patel and company cutting loose in a Slumdog Millionaire-style Bollywood dance number. Take your mother. She’ll thank you. **½