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" A woman’s heart is an ocean of secrets "
— Gloria Stuart, Titanic

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Atomic Blonde

Atomic Blonde offers an excitingly fresh and strong female lead. —Matt Anderson (review...)

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When it movies do reasonably well at the box office, one go-round no longer seems sufficient.

So it’s hardly surprising that director John Madden and the ensemble cast of The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel have reunited for a sequel, this one appropriately titled The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel. Second best, it most certainly is.

A colorful return to Jaipur
A colorful return to Jaipur

Three years after the original, Sonny (Dev Patel) has joined with the reliably acerbic Muriel (Maggie Smith) to try to interest an international franchiser in their small Indian operation, selling it as a charming spot where the elderly can enjoy their golden years at a low cost.

The movie never seems to question whether expansion and franchising are consistent with maintaining the hotel’s rumpled charm, but a movie such as The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel never strays too far out of an audience’s comfort zone.

Among the new but hardly pressing questions: Will Douglas (Bill Nighy) overcome his shyness and finally confess his growing love for Evelyn (Judi Dench)?

Called upon to be diffident, Nighy loses access to the wit that has marked his best work. For her part, Dench continues to bring warmth and dignity to a role that otherwise might be at home in a sitcom — sitcom sensibilities being the operative force here.

Meanwhile, Sonny and his fiancee (Tena Desai) are planning their engagement party and wedding — albeit not without obstacles stemming mostly from Sonny’s insecurity. He frets about a potential rival.

Norman (Ronald Pickup) continues to work out the details of his relationship with Carol (Diana Hardcastle), and Madge (Celia Imrie) flirts with two Indian suitors.

Also added to the mix is a miscast Richard Gere, who plays a man who says he’s writing a novel after the collapse of his marriage. Lest he be left out of the romantic stew, Gere’s character is smitten by Sonny’s mother (Lillete Dubey) in what amounts to a pro forma and sparkless attempt at romance.

What was the point of adding Gere anyway? The reason people might want to see this movie rests almost entirely on their affection for characters they already know — not on the expectation that newbies will arrive.

Less distracting is David Strathairn: He’s briefly seen as the owner of a chain of hotels that may want to add The Marigold to its burgeoning empire.

The script even finds a way to return Douglas’s miserable but estranged wife (Penelope Wilton) to the proceedings before all the loose ends are neatly tied.

You know from the start that any movie set in India must include energetic Bollywood-style dancing, which this one does, although it tries to leave us with a slightly reflective aftertaste.

For my money, Dench and Smith provide the major reasons to make a second trip to Jaipur, India, that and any incidental travelogue pleasures the journey may offer. Put it this way: Aging seldom has been made to seem more colorful.