‘The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel’
Director:
John Madden
Stars: Judi Dench, Bill Nighy
Rating: PG
3 (out of 5) Globes

If this were the 1930s, there would be two, maybe three, “Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” entries every year, cranked out a la Mickey Rooney’s prolific and hugely profitable Andy Hardy series. In its two entries so far, the franchise has exhibited the same unfailingly modest and easily-regurgitated charm. Once again, a bevy of charming geriatric Brit acting legends are let loose in a northwestern Indian hotel-cum-retirement home. Their tasks are simple: there will be some hesitant romance, a couple farcical misunderstandings paired with some light drama, plus a flirtation — with potential for something more — with death. And because any movie with three or more old-timers means one of them must be saucy, that means nice Celia Imrie’s Madge has to read “Fifty Shades of Grey” and make Bond-ian double entendres about newbie Richard Gere’s business.

Gere’s sadsack aspiring novelist is one of the too few additions this time around, along with a blink-and-you-miss-him David Strathairn and Tamsin Greig (“Black Books,” “Episodes”) as a perpetually dazed middle-ager allegedly test-driving the spot for her mom. The complications this time find Bill Nighy’s reliably Billy Nighy-ish Douglas crushing on Judi Dench’s reluctant Evelyn, goofy Norman (Ronald Pickup) worrying he accidentally took a hit out on Madge’s head and young, excitable hotelier Sonny (Dev Patel) attending to both his looming marriage and trying to secure a nicer hotel than the dilapidated one he has.

These plot threads will disappear for stretches (Douglas-Evelyn) or be dropped entirely (Norman-Madge). Sonny’s plight will be stretched out for the entire length, only to be resolved with a gaudy dance number. Meanwhile, Maggie Smith’s unfailingly grouchy Muriel will keep on keepin’ on, until she starts taking suspicious naps. Never will the complicated notion of Brits invading an old colony be addressed, nor will the title: self-deprecating joke or just a title? Technically this is more hang-out movie than plot-movie, but the actors don’t really spend time together so much as endlessly deploy the same few character tics. Nighy stammers. Dench withers. Dench glowers. Imrie does her best “View to a Kill”-era Roger Moore. 

No one is called on to do more, and yet they’re such pros that even doing next-to-nothing is infused with great weight. In fact, Nighy, Dench and Smith effortlessly complicate their thin business with deep notes of regret and longing — feelings the blue-print of a screenplay could never dream of turning into words or actions. What actually happens in “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” doesn’t matter, and it goes on so long — only a half-hour shorter than “Goodfellas” — that you may forget your life before the film began. Like the hotel itself, it’s a movie held together by bubble gum and duct tape —  a two-star residence at best that nevertheless feels cozy. If all that happened in the inevitable “The Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Dream Warriors” is they played shuffleboard — well, that actually might be preferable to what happens here.

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