The first “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” movie, based on Deborah Moggach’s 2004 novel about British pensioners who retire to a hotel in India, is a lovely, lively mess. Despite tone that’s all over the place and ill-fitting pieces that make it a bumpy ride, a great bunch of mostly British thespians make the film worth a visit, if not an extended stay.
An unlikely hit, “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” has spawned a sequel, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel.” Most of the splendid original cast returns, including Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Bill Nighy, Dev Patel, Celia Imrie and Lillete Dubey. Newcomers Richard Gere and Tamsin Greig also check in.
A sequel that moves at a faster tempo than the original, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” piles on the confusion, stress and conflict. At the center of the circus again is Patel (“Slumdog Millionaire”) as the frenetic Sonny, founder of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in Jaipur, capital city of the Indian state of Rajasthan.
In the new film, Sonny is usually at his wit’s end, juggling three story lines all by himself. In addition to the normal duties involved in operating the hotel, Sonny is on eagle-eyed watch for a representative from the American financial institution from which he hopes to obtain a business loan. He’s also preparing to marry his fiancée, the lovely Sunaina (Bollywood star Tina Desai).
Stressing Sonny out more, the arrival of the male-model handsome Kush (a friend of Sunaina’s brother), saddles Sonny with both a romantic and business rival. He reels from one panic attack to another.
All the while, multiple subplots ferment among the hotel residents. You need a scorecard. These older folks are so busy. Too busy.
Perhaps unavoidably, the original film’s fresh, commendable story about normal people in their later years, as well as Patel’s delightfully mad performance, doesn’t exist in the sequel. It really is second best.
“The Second Best Marigold Hotel” can still bank on its cast. Smith reprises her role as the hotel’s co-manager, Muriel Donnelly. Unfortunately, Smith doesn’t get enough scenes or good lines. Smith’s peer, Dench, on the other hand, plays much more prominently. Her Evelyn reenters the workforce. She’s also the subject of mostly unrequited love from fellow hotel resident Douglas, played by Nighy, another dependable old pro.
Panicky scenes aren’t limited to Sonny. Ronald Pickup’s Norman, another returning character, is happily engaged in a relationship with Carol (Diana Hardcastle), until he comes to believe that he’s mistakenly contracted a Jaipur cab driver to kill her.
New cast member Gere checks in, sending the ladies at the hotel, especially Celia Imrie’s Madge, into fits of desire. But Gere’s Guy Chambers is taken with Sonny’s hard-to-get mother, Mrs. Kapoor, played by the great Indian actress Lillete Dubey.
“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” quickly descends into a noisy, chaotic, inferior echo of its predecessor. There’s a Bollywood-style musical scene, which feels added out of desperation. And the original film’s charm is overwhelmingly missing. There’s less fun and less poignancy. The ingredients for a third “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” are absent, too.