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Good guests: 'Best Exotic Marigold Hotel'

Judi Dench, left, and Celia Imre in "The

Judi Dench, left, and Celia Imre in "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" Credit: Handout

Even the finest actors in the world generally can't save a silly script -- unless, that is, they're actually, literally the finest actors in the world.

"The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" certainly has quite a few. Some are British veterans who won't be familiar to Americans, while the others are famous names attached to titles like "Dame" and "OBE." The movie itself is a mawkish comedy-drama-romance, but the astounding cast makes it feel like a night on the West End.

For starters there's Judi Dench, playing not a queen but a cash-strapped widow, Evelyn, one of several seniors whose golden years seem somehow tarnished. Tom Wilkinson is Graham, a high-court judge with a secret; Bill Nighy and Penelope Wilton are Douglas and Jean, whose savings have disappeared in a floundering Internet start-up; Celia Imrie plays Madge, a gold digger still honing her pick; Ronald Pickup is Norman, a skirt-chaser refusing to slow down.

They'll converge, as ensemble casts are wont to do, in one place: the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, advertised as a home "for the elderly and beautiful" in Darpur, India. What follows is a collection of back stories and new developments, some more convincing than others. Nighy, Wilton and Dench form a triangle of sorts that could almost carry a one-act play, while Maggie Smith is so good as Muriel, a cantankerous racist, that she pulls off what should be a highly unconvincing epiphany. Even Dev Patel ("Slumdog Millionaire"), as the hotel's ever-optimistic manager, prevents his chattering role from tipping into caricature.

Ably directed by John Madden ("Shakespeare in Love") and based on a novel by Deborah Moggach, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" has all the weaknesses of its genre, particularly the tied-in-a-bow ending. But with a cast like this, it's hard to argue.PLOT Seven British seniors uproot themselves to live in an Indian retirement home.

PLOT Seven British seniors uproot themselves to live in an Indian retirement home. RATING PG-13 (sexual content and language)

CAST Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Tom Wilkinson, Penelope Wilton.

LENGTH 2:02.

PLAYING AT Area theaters.

BOTTOM LINE A contrived comedy-drama, but worth seeing for the once-in-a-lifetime cast of England's finest.

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