In 2012, "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" aimed for a box-office demographic that most studios had abandoned. The story of seven British seniors who find second chances at life after checking into a dilapidated Indian hotel, the film looked as regal as a Merchant-Ivory production but had the thematic heft of a Hugh Grant rom-com. The combination proved a hit. "Marigold" earned $136.8 million, proving that actors in their 60s and 70s could still resonate with audiences.

It helped that those actors, including Judi Dench and Bill Nighy, were some of the finest around. Returning director John Madden reassembles them in the follow-up, "The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel," in which the Marigold's enthusiastic young owner, Sonny (Dev Patel), attempts to open a second property. The cast is joined by Richard Gere as an American silver fox who falls for Sonny's mother (Lillete Dubey), but none of them can save this shallow, hollow, feebleminded sequel.

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In an attempt to create new problems for his old characters (originated by Deborah Moggach in her novel "These Foolish Things"), screenwriter Ol Parker inadvertently makes them all unlikable. Gold-digging Madge (Celia Imrie) spends alternate nights with two Indian suitors. Freewheeling Norman (Ronald Pickup) fears that he has accidentally ordered a hit on his girlfriend, Carol (Diana Hardcastle), easily the film's dopiest contrivance. Dench's Evelyn, whom we last saw riding a motorbike with Nighy's Douglas, is now inexplicably hesitant about him. Perhaps that's because the once-endearing Douglas has somehow become a harebrained bore.

Any film that can't make good use of Nighy, an actor whose shrewd intelligence shines through even in dreck like "Underworld: Rise of the Lycans," is doing something dreadfully wrong. Patel also grates as the increasingly manic Sonny, although Tina Desai, as his fiancee, helps soften his edges. As for the great Maggie Smith, her role as the cranky Muriel Donnelly is ossifying into shtick.

The first film at least addressed the specter of death among these aging expatriates, but the sequel seems more afraid of the subject. That's probably because the studio is loath to rule out "The Third Best Exotic Marigold Hotel."