Truthfully, there isn’t any real reason — apart from indulging the fans of the original — for the existence of The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. The 2011 film was fine by itself and needed no further elaboration. But the sequel is a reasonably ingratiating visit with old friends — at least those left standing at the end of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel — and I wouldn’t dream of telling the packed house I saw it with that it was in any way superfluous. It’s rather heartening — especially at my age — just to see a film built around 60- and 70-plus-year-old characters where they aren’t firing heavy artillery and blowing things up. (I will admit that the prospect of seeing Bill Nighy fire a rocket launcher does have some passing appeal, but that would be a different movie altogether.)
The only serious drawback to this new film is that it has nothing that dramatically carries the weight of Tom Wilkinson’s lost love, Maggie Smith getting past her racism and finding meaning to her life or Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton discovering they don’t belong together, etc. in the first film. In their place, the best that returning writer Ol Parker and director John Madden can find is to create a series of often contrived and very variable minor hurdles to be cleared. So instead of the organic flow of the original (which may have had much to do with Deborah Moggach’s source novel These Foolish Things), we get a movie that moves in fits and starts. This is less troublesome in itself than the film’s tendency to feel overstuffed with incident — some of it well … inessential.
Theoretically, the major plot here involves Sonny (Dev Patel) trying to land a deal to expand his business by adding another hotel to his retirement-hotel holdings — all the while dealing with his impending marriage to Sunaina (Tina Desai). Of course, since Sonny is better with the broad picture — the very broad picture — the details are more or less handed over to Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith), whose business acumen saved the hotel in the original. Not inspired perhaps, but certainly workable. Also workable is the rather silly business of Sonny trying to please the incognito hotel inspector sent to OK or nix the expansion deal. Of course, the fact that the person is incognito makes this a guessing game. Mirth of the mistaken identity kind ensues.
Still, it’s all a good enough spine for the film — or would have been if every single character wasn’t given some kind of mini-crisis to clutter things up. That said, the film’s unfailingly pleasant tone and that cast overcome much — including the idea that possible hotel inspector Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) is so hot that his presence has Sonny claim to be questioning his own sexuality. (I have nothing against Gere, but really …) The worst of the film’s ideas is a dumb jealousy plot involving Sonny thinking that Sunaina is besotted with his smarmy “best friend” (Shazad Latif). Most of the film’s transgressions are minor when all is said and done. Yes, every single surprise is pretty transparent, but I’m not sure this is a movie you come to for surprises.
The question now, I suppose, is will this spawn a third movie? It very easily could, yes. The dialogue even suggests that possibility. However, unless the third film manages to wiggle out of a plot development — one that has been very deliberately built up over the course of the film — in this one, the filmmakers may have shot themselves in the foot on this score. I can’t say more without saying too much, but it signals a change I doubt the series could survive. Rated PG for some language and suggestive comments.