The sequel “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is meant to be as comforting as a cup of tea — and a proper British cup at that. It follows the standard recipe of the first film, deviating little in its formula or execution, with plenty of warm performances, picturesque settings, and jokes about aging and proximity to death. Similarly, your appetite for a second visit to “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” depends entirely on how you felt about your first stay. Director John Madden and practically the entire cast (save Tom Wilkinson) return, so there are few surprises and little subtlety here. “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is reassuringly familiar, which should please the fans who helped the original make $137 million. Plus, it has Richard Gere, so you know your mom is going to like it even more than the first film.
“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” begins not in Jaipur, or even in England, but in California, on Route 66, with Sonny (Dev Patel) and business partner Muriel (Maggie Smith) pitching an expansion of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. They approach a chain of retirement communities, presided over by David Strathairn (getting perhaps his easiest paycheck since “A League of Their Own”). The company agrees to consider his proposal and will send a representative for a closer look at Sonny’s operation.
Once Sonny and Muriel return to Jaipur, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” reintroduces the audience to the hotel’s residents via the morning roll call. Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) are both working, and they enjoy each others company more than ever. Madge (Celia Imrie) struggles to choose between two men who both love her, while Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) find their eyes wandering from one another.
In addition to an expansion to a new location — The Supreme Quality Hotel — Sonny is busy with final preparations for his marriage to Sunaina (Tena Desae). Sonny’s enthusiasm hasn’t been dampened in the years since the first film; he’s as overeager as ever. We found ourselves wondering if he was this annoying the first time around or if the passage of time had pleasantly dulled his energy in our brains. When two new guests arrive, he tries desperately to impress Guy (Gere), the one he thinks is an emissary from California, while he ignores another newcomer to the hotel (Tamsin Greig).
All the drama — the possibility of a new location, conflict between Sonny and his bride-to-be, and the return of Douglas’s wife Jean (a delightfully evil Penelope Wilton) — all seem secondary to simply getting the gang back together on screen again. We have to admire a film whose villain’s worst characteristic is her inability to be as swayed by the charms of the hotel as everyone else. There’s not really much of a purpose to the original film having a sequel, other than our affection for the characters and the fact that the first one was incredibly successful both critically and commercially. Sequels and remakes flood theaters, but sequels to gentle British comedies led by the over-sixty set are rare even in this environment.
Madden is a capable director, and lensing from DP Ben Smithard ensures that nothing is amiss on screen. The streets of Jaipur and the hotel itself are captured in all their color, while the well-lit evening scenes and golden-hued tours led by Douglas serve as a showcase for the location’s beauty. It’s not quite the Indian tourism brochure that the first film was, but it adequately expresses the various charms of both the city and the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel itself.
It’s hard to feel too much animosity for such a warm, entirely harmless film populated by some of Britain’s best. Smith, Nighy, and Dench aren’t delivering audacious, reaching performances here, but there’s still plenty of charm and authenticity. Honestly, we would have been just as happy with the end result had it been 122 minutes of Smith’s Muriel complaining about America’s tea, and if that ends up being the script for “The Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” we won’t be too upset. [B-]