Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel: Sequel avoids traditional pitfalls

Not much needs to be said about big budget R-rated films “Chappie” and “Unfinished Business,” which both crashed and burned commercially and critically this weekend. Hollywood can sift through the wreckage for what’s left of Vince Vaughn’s career at another time.

But there’s something to be said for an upward trend in cinema that shined brightly this week on the big screen as the sequel to the 2012 hit film “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” outdrew most movies on the opening weekend of Spring Break season despite playing in a third of theaters nationally.

With the success of films like “Marigold” (now in its “Second Best” installation), “The Bucket List” and “Last Vegas,” it seems that there’s an emerging marketplace for light-hearted comedies starring big-name actors beginning to reach the twilight of their careers (and lives). 

For the second iteration of India’s only hotel for the “elderly and beautiful,” director John Madden — best known for the Oscar-winning “Shakespeare in Love” — re-gathers the original film’s cast, adding fresh face silver-fox Richard Gere to the mix as a new hotel guest.

Sequels can be hit-or-miss, especially for first-time viewers who’ve missed out on two hours’ worth of back story, but that never seems to be an issue here as “Marigold” is a film about the people themselves, rather than the seemingly cliché and mundane events they get themselves into while living in an unusual world.

Don’t get caught up in all the minutia of the rapid fire plot turns as Madden tries to keep viewers engaged in eight or more plotlines all at once.

Much in the same way we as moviegoers forgive lesser action films for subpar plots because we just want to see things blow up, there’s not a whole lot of originality to the second “Marigold” go-round, but that’s not really a problem in this light-hearted feature.

It’s easy to tell that the cast, which includes a veritable who’s who list of British acting royalty (including two Dames in Judi Dench and Maggie Smith), really enjoys working together in a laid back and fun atmosphere. It’s readily apparent, especially in Smith’s performance as the aging guest turned co-manager.

But it’s Dev Patel — best known as the adult lead of the 2009 Academy Award-winning “Slumdog Millionaire” — who gives the best performance in the film, returning to the series as the frantic, yet good-natured hotel owner Sonny.

Among the chaos of all the different plot lines that zigzag across India, Patel’s nuanced and pitch-perfect performance serves as the comedic heartbeat of “Marigold.”

Like its closest cinematic sibling, “The Hundred-Foot Journey,” “Marigold” stuns visually, thanks to picturesque landscapes and well designed cinematography from director of photography Ben Smithard.

Well worth the price of admission, “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” offers a hearty amount of laughs and the requisite amount of tenderness, while side-stepping the flaws most sequels fall prey to.

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