2011's The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel introduced a group of older Brits that spot an ad for a lovely — and affordable — retirement hotel in India, and opt to emigrate. Upon arrival they learn the hotel isn't nearly as lush as it appeared to be. While dealing with the frazzled young man running the place, they must adapt to a new world and a ramshackle new home.
The film was agreeable, mixing humor with some poignant moments, and it made a healthy amount of money. Which brings us to 2015 and The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. (If you loved the original and have been eagerly awaiting this movie, you should stop reading now). The original didn't cry out for a sequel, but here we are, looking at a movie with a title that reviews itself. John Madden (Shakespeare in Love) returns to direct. Ol Parker, who adapted Deborah Moggach's novel for the original, is back as well, contriving situations to justify a return visit with the characters.
And there's the problem. The end of the first film suggested forward motion, as the expatriates adjusted to the changes in their lives, and the jittery hotel manager and part-owner became a little more assured. The sequel gives each character new bothers, and demands they take a couple hours to figure out solutions for them.
With the original place thriving, part-owner/manager Sonny (Dev Patel) and acerbic guest-turned-employee Muriel Donnelly (Maggie Smith) seek money from financier Ty Burley (Daniel Strathairn) to open a second hotel, with eyes toward building a franchise. Sonny is like a top spun by the screenwriter. He's terribly nervous about the hotel inspector he knows will be sent to check out the place.
When American Guy Chambers (Richard Gere) and Brit Lavania Beck (Tamsin Greig) check in separately at the same time, he assumes Guy is the secret inspector and sucks up to him while treating Lavinia in a dismissive fashion. He also ignores his obligations for his wedding preparations to his honey-bunny Sunaina (Tina Desai). Sonny's behavior and Patel's performance are as grating as anything I ever saw on the old Three's Company sitcom.
The original film suggested guests Evelyn (Judi Dench) and Douglas (Bill Nighy) were about to couple up, but the sequel shoves them back to awkward friendship mode. Norman (Ronald Pickup) and Carol (Diana Hardcastle) are having troubles related to monogamy, while sexy Madge (Celia Imrie) deals with two local men seeking her heat.
Everyone is busy, busy, busy, as characters in sequel generally are. For the most part, The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel plays like the pilot to a TV series based on the original. The cast is impressive, and it's nice that Lillete Dubey's (The Lunchbox) role as Sonny's mother is expanded. There are some amusing lines (Muriel gets to take a good shot at America) and there's a big wedding at the end that's fun to watch. But I spent most of the movie waiting for the moments when each character finally makes the decision they should have made in the first 30 minutes of the movie.