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The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (2015)

DIRECTOR: John Madden

CAST: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Ronald Pickup, Celia Imrie, Penelope Wilton, Diana Hardcastle, Tina Desai, Lillete Dubey, Richard Gere, David Strathairn


2012’s The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was a pleasant, unchallenging little morsel, but nothing about its modest charms cried out for a sequel, yet here we are. Unsurprisingly, like many an unnecessary sequel, the follow-up wears out the original’s limited welcome and, despite writer-director John Madden returning, hackneyed try-hard attempts at stirring up contrived plot complications and overly frantic wannabe comedy replaces the first movie’s gentle simple charms. It’s not worth checking back into the hotel to watch the somewhat sad sight of a cast of distinguished elder British thespians gamely going through the motions of material that’s beneath them.

When we pick up, there’s wedding bells ringing for the hotel’s ever-frazzled young manager Sonny Kapoor (Dev Patel) and bride-to-be Sunaina (Tina Desai), but the road isn’t smooth sailing (if there was, it wouldn’t be much of a movie, not that it’s much of one anyway). Sonny and co-manager Muriel (Maggie Smith) are reaching out for business partners to expand into a hotel chain, but a would-be romantic/business rival (Shazad Latif) might interfere with Sonny’s plans. A prospective business partner (David Strathairn) dispatches an anonymous inspector to check if things are up to snuff, whom Sonny assumes—possibly erroneously—to be newly-arrived laid-back author Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) who, to make matters more complicated, is interested in Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey). Also facing romantic complications are the kinda sorta couple of Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy), who’s hesitant about making a definite move. Norman (Ronald Pickup) is navigating questions of monogamy and exclusivity with girlfriend Carol (Diana Hardcastle).

If all of the above sounds like soap opera, that’s because it is, played out in overly frantic fashion in try-hard attempts to get laughs and/or generate drama that feel markedly more forced than the first movie’s gentle charms. Seemingly aware that this movie is struggling to justify its superfluous existence, the filmmakers whip up all kinds of cliched nonsense that reduces the characters to acting like idiots. The worst victim is Sonny, whose panicky histrionics have been dialed up to eleven and scrambles around fawning over the obvious red herring he flimsily assumes to be the dreaded inspector while ignoring the other suspect (Tamsin Greig), alternately pushing Mom to fawn over Mr. Chambers as well and then freaking out when they fall into bed, and becoming embroiled in real or perceived love triangle drama. Meanwhile, Norman finds out his lady friend is having an affair, and in the silliest bit of all, realizes he may have accidentally put out a hit on her life with the help of an eager-to-please cab driver with a hazy grasp of English. No cliche is left unturned; there’s obvious red herrings, transparent “surprise” reveals, romantic rivals, contrived relationship drama, and shoehorned plot complications. In the first movie, these characters were quirky but likable. Here, they’re all too often annoying.

The ensemble of elder British thespians (besides Dev Patel) still provides some small pleasures, but there’s something a little sad about watching them gamely go through the motions of material that makes what they had to work with in the first movie look award-worthy by comparison. With Tom Wilkinson (the most interesting character in the first movie) gone, it falls to Maggie Smith to fill the quota of a dash of poignancy. Judi Dench walks through with her dignity unscathed, but it’s hard to imagine Dench ever not being dignified. Bill Nighy supplies some mildly amusing bits, while Ronald Pickup is reduced to running around after goofy plotlines, Celia Imrie still feels superfluous, and Dev Patel’s Sonny has officially tipped the scales from likable into annoying (given how much of an idiot the script has reduced him to, it might not be fair to blame Patel). Penelope Wilton, as Douglas’ ex-wife, returns for no real reason except to remind us of how grating she was in the first movie. The biggest newcomer, Richard Gere, mostly gets through unscathed by virtue of getting to coast along playing the laid-back straight man, while David Strathairn has a walk-on role.

A movie like The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel has the effect of retroactively making the first movie look better than it really was in comparison. Hackneyed soap opera has replaced simple charms, once-likable characters have been reduced to caricatures of themselves, and the movie fights a losing battle with justifying its own existence. Unless one is very keen to reunite with this cast (a forgivable inclination), it’s not necessary to check back in to this hotel.

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