CALLERI: Back to India with some Brits and the dark side of Hollywood

The Associated PressThis image released by Fox Searchlight Films shows, from left, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle, Judi Dench, Maggie Smith and Bill Nighy in a scene from "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."

It’s nice that the filmmakers behind “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” use the words “second best” in the title. Nothing like a little truth in advertising.

Director John Madden and screenwriter Oliver Parker’s “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” from 2012, achieved a popularity that surprised Hollywood studio executives who were under the mistaken impression that people over 50 years of age didn’t go to the movies.

Madden and Parker’s sequel continues the British love affair with India. We’re still in Jaipur, a colorful city of 3.1-million people in the northern part of the country, a city that was planned within Vedic traditions for the pleasure and serenity of its citizens.

Jaipur, where both films were shot, retains its rich Bengali architecture. None of that British imperialistic construction that highlights New Delhi, a style propagated by England’s architect of choice, Edwin Lutyens, who decided that India’s capital city should look like London with looming stone buildings in varying shades of gray.

The best things about “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” are, in fact, the views of Jaipur, as well as the inclusion of the city’s people and culture, including a wedding party that plays an important part in the story. The first movie was centered around a group of lonely Brits who retired to Jaipur.

The sequel finds most of these very same Brits still yearning for adult companionship, but it’s good to see the food, folklore, and customs of India playing a larger part in the goings-on. Ben Smithard’s rich cinematography offers visual pleasures that compensate for the lack of substance from the screenplay.

In the new film, Dev Patel still plays Sonny, the part-owner and manager of The Exotic Marigold Hotel, which is a success, although a success that finds the residents essentially being the same gang from two years ago. He and the persnickety Muriel (Maggie Smith) hope to open a second hotel, and perhaps more, possibly a chain of alluring exotica that’s not too scary for retirees. They are in the United States looking for stateside investment from a hotel company run by David Strathairn.

After returning to Jaipur, the movie settles into a rut, with situations that belong more in a television comedy than in a feature-length motion picture. Sonny has his eyes on a second location, but situations make that problematic. He is about to get married to his long-suffering girlfriend Sunaina (Tina Desai), but situations involving her brother’s possibly gay friend Kushal make that a bumpy road. Sonny thinks Kushal is a threat to his relationship with Sunaina. An inspector from Strathairn’s lodging firm has arrived, but a mistaken-identity situation ploddingly tries, but fails, to turn the inspection into comic gold.

The sequel tells us that the curious old Brits, a cast that includes returnees Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, and Celia Imrie, continue to be plucky, frisky, and unafraid of mortality. Some of the ladies ogle a fresh face, a weary, out-of-shape, and haggard-looking Richard Gere. I hope those were method acting tools.

It’s hinted at early-on that not everyone may live happily-ever-after, and a big dance number brightens the ending, even if the film, at an over-long 122-minutes, doesn’t advance the characters very much.

“The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel” is a pleasant diversion, a little too silly at times, and too often not believable. It’s as familiar as the beloved British stars whose characters treasure India.

The repetitive movie should have been better, considering the superior talent involved, but I have the sense that the filmmakers wanted to create something comfortable, something relaxing, something not too terribly different. They succeeded only a little. Familiarity isn’t always refreshing.

“Maps To The Stars” is a failed satire. It’s an exploration of the cruel and vicious underbelly of Hollywood, a peeping through the keyhole of a few winners, who in actuality are life’s losers because of the miseries they suffer.

Julianne Moore won the best actress award at Cannes as a movie star maniacally obsessed with playing the same role that made her mother famous. The mother’s ghost talks to her. John Cusack is a self-help guru whose own 13-year old son is a show business monster, a temperamental brat fresh out of drug rehab. Mia Wasikowska is a mysterious young woman covered in burns who arrives from out-of-town and is in desperate need of a job. Backstabbing? Of course. Incest? You’ve got it.

Director David Cronenberg and screenwriter Bruce Wagner seem to think they’ve crafted something daring, but everything negative they want to say about Hollywood was said infinitely better in “The Player” and “Mulholland Drive.” A community in demented crisis is revealed more stylishly in “Blue Velvet.” Do they really believe that a chauffeur

(Robert Pattinson) wanting to write screenplays is original?

“Maps To The Stars” lacks vigor and never goes beyond stereotypes and cliches. Cronenberg’s ridiculously over-stated crassness and grotesque characters derail the picture because nothing is tethered to a substantive point-of-view. His obsession with obviousness is the only thing that’s creepy here.

Michael Calleri reviews films for Night and Day. Contact him at moviecolumn@gmail.com.

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