By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Like many sequels, it’s second and second best. But not by much.
Call it a comparable companion piece.
But even though the only reason for the existence of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is the surprising and impressive commercial success of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, it comes close to the level of its predecessor, and represents another entertaining excursion for its underserved target audience (let’s call them “folks with more than a few miles on the odometer”).
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel –- its title indicating a second outing, not a second-place finish — is the modestly charming, naturally cheerful, and winningly whimsical followup to the hit 2012 comedy-drama, The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, another mature exploration of older-generation empowerment.
But whereas both are set in the same sunny outpost, the first outing offered freshness and originality while the sequel trades in familiarity and contrivance and has a measure of problematic sequelitis: there’s an inescapable add-on quality to the entire proceeding.
“Overstaying its welcome” would be overstating the case against the attempted replication, but it’s close enough.
The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel is set eight months after The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The British senior citizens who have outsourced their retirement by coming to a dilapidated hotel in Jaipur, India, managed by Sonny (played by Dev Patel) — who is about to get married even as he tries to get a second hotel off the ground – are now comfortably ensconced in their surroundings.
The residents include Douglas (Bill Nighy) and Evelyn (Judi Dench), still doing a tentative mating dance while Evelyn mulls over a new job offer and their coupling comprises the film’s most prominent element; Madge (Celia Imrie), deciding between two suitors; Jean (Penelope Wilton), Douglas’ estranged wife; Muriel (Maggie Smith), now the co-owner, seemingly reconciled with her racial prejudices, and taking over the narration from Dench; Will (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Newcastle) making the case for and against monogamy; and two newcomers to the hotel, Guy (Richard Gere), an American, and Lavinia (Tamsin Grieg), a Brit, whose reasons for being here are yet to be explained.
The film offers them all as people worth spending at least a bit more time with, and that’s generally true. Just about all the characters are making fresh starts -– both in their work lives and in their love lives — at the hotel before metaphorical checkout time.
John Madden (Shakespeare in Love, Mrs. Brown, Proof, The Debt) is back in the director’s chair and screenwriter Ol Parker returns as well, as do most of the cast, who are effortlessly watchable and engaging, with the possible exception of Patel, who overdoes the high-energy speed-talking that he established as a characteristic in the first film by aiming it at the second balcony.
Like the hotel brochure, the film promises somewhat more than it delivers. Like its predecessor, it offers lived-in characters played deftly by skilled performers, and lightly explores such themes as tolerance, second chances, and the aging process.
And, like its predecessor, it’s an agreeable divertissement that juggles interwoven plot strands and offers a strong sense of place, with India a virtual supporting character.
But this time there’s a prototypical Bollywood song-and-dance finale that’s a bit of a sop but that should put a smile on most of the audience’s faces anyway as they exit what should be the second and final installment in the welcome franchise.
So we’ll relocate to 2½ stars out of 4 for this good-natured and modestly pleasurable dramedy, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, a recycling of retiring and rewiring that’s reasonably rewarding.