Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: John Madden

Stars: Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Dev Patel, Bill Nighy, Richard Gere, Ronald Pickup, Penelope Wilton, Celia Imrie, Tamsin Greig, Tena Desae, Lillet Dubey, David Strathairn, Diana Hardcastle, Shazad Latif.

Is this the most ironically apt film title of the year?

The original and life affirming Best Exotic Marigold Hotel was one of the surprise hits of 2012, so it’s not surprising that the producers have had a second bite at the cherry with this obligatory sequel. But the film suffers from the usual fate of most sequels – it is formulaic, and it has lost much of its freshness and appeal. The crowded plot is sprawling and all over the place as writer Ol Parker tries to expand on the original concept of Deborah Moggach’s source novel, and give equal time to the returning characters. He also introduces a couple of new characters to add a bit of spice and tension to the material.

The film takes up eight months after the original. This time around the character of Sonny (played by Slumdog Millionaire‘s Dev Patel), the irrepressible, optimistic and fast talking manager of the hotel, takes centre stage. Given the success of his hotel which has played home to a number of aging British expats who have found a new lease on life in exotic Jaipur, India, Sonny wants to expand his business and open a second hotel. Although he runs the hotel, it seems that the irascible Mrs Donnelly (Maggie Smith) has become the brains behind the business as she takes care of the financial side. They approach an American hotel chain for support, and are told that an inspector will check out their potential.

Back home in India, Sonny prepares for his upcoming wedding to Sunaina (Tena Desae), but grows jealous of her friendship with Kushal (Shazad Latif), her handsome friend from school, who reappears at the most inconvenient time. And he is also distracted and overly anxious about the arrival of a hotel inspector who is going to be checking up on the efficiency of the business.

The slowly growing bond between Sonny and the misanthropic Mrs Donnelly though gives the film much of its emotional depth.

Meanwhile, the residents go about their lives. Evelyn (Judi Dench) is offered a job with a textile import company. Douglas (a typically mannered Bill Nighy) acts as a tour guide, although he can barely remember the facts he imparts. The fires of passion that slowly ignited between the pair during the first film still sizzle away in the background as both try to build up the nerve to express their true feelings. The relationship between Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diane Hardcastle) hits a bumpy patch as he begins to suspect she is unfaithful. And Madge (Celia Imrie) has to eventually choose between two wealthy suitors. The script touches on each of the characters as they muddle through and make the most of their second chance at life, but doesn’t really give them a lot of note to do.

Returning director John Madden (Shakespeare In Love, etc) is quite familiar with the characters and the tone of the film, and he maintains a gentle pace and generally feel good vibe throughout. The film has plenty of gentle, good natured humour and compassion as it explores themes of aging, loneliness, mortality, the exuberance of youth, mistaken identity,infidelity, and romance. There are also some touches of slapstick, courtesy of the effervescent Patel. Madden captures the vibrant colours, sounds, sights and smells of contemporary India and the bustling settings come to life and add plenty of local flavour. Cinematographer Ben Smithard also captures some inviting images and gorgeous streetscapes.

Madden has assembled a dream cast, with most of the original cast of veteran British thespians returning (minus Tom Wilkinson, whose character died during the first film). Patel brings plenty of energy and charm to his performance as the perky Sonny. Veterans Dench and Smith bring plenty of style and grace to the material, and Smith, fittingly enough, gets most of the best lines which she delivers with her trademark withering, snarky style. Richard Gere brings some added charisma to his role as the undercover hotel inspector whom Sunny awkwardly fawns over, while David Strathairn brings gravitas to his couple of scenes.

Despite its shortcomings though, there is some charm to The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. This is lightweight stuff, but it will certainly appeal to the same demographic that loved the original film.



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