You can wait around and hope that such consummate actors as Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton will be around forever. But they won’t. So when they show up together in a movie, even a sequel as wobbly as The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, you’d be wise to just sit back and behold. Second Best — how’s that for truth in advertising? — is basically the same movie as the 2012 original without the novelty. It’s still about British seniors seeking a retirement haven in India. But the follow-up only exists because the original hit the box-office sweet spot. Hollywood, which traditionally ignores the interests of seniors — hell, make that adults in general — saw a new audience to exploit.
So the old gang has been rounded up for another go. Don’t worry. It only sounds like codger cattle-prodding. Director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) knows his job is basically to juggle the clichés in Ol Parker’s script. But his affection for his cast is genuine. So is ours. Instead of going gentle into that good night, the seniors at the Marigold in Jaipur are actually spreading their wings. Evelyn (Dench), at 79, becomes a buyer of exotic fabrics. Douglas (Nighy) is a charmingly clueless tour guide who’s trying to seduce Evelyn since his wife, Jean (Wilton), has left him. And Muriel (Smith) has agreed to co-manage the hotel with dithering Sonny (Dev Patel), who wants to expand now that he’s about to marry his fiancee (Tina Desai). That sends Muriel and Sonny to the U.S. to hustle financing from an investor (David Strathairn) who sends an inspector to India to spy on the operation. Is that spy silver-haired charmer Guy Chambers (Richard Gere)?
I’ll never tell. But there’s no denying that Gere spices up the proceedings, especially when he takes a shine to Sonny’s mom (Lillete Dubey). Madden throws everything he can at the screen, including a Bollywood wedding and the spectre of death. He needn’t have bothered. It’s delicious to watch Dame Maggie aim a zinger (“Just because I’m looking at you when you talk, don’t think I’m listening or even interested”). And Dench and Nighy are class personified. The secret here is merely to luxuriate in the pleasure of their company.