Is this the dullest movie of the last 12 months or am I overlooking something? An old folks' "Passage to India," "The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel" combines cheesy exoticism, clunky comedy and groggy pacing into a fever pitch of boredom. A gaggle of graying, low-income British retirees (Judi Dench, Maggie Smith, Tom Wilkinson and Bill Nighy among them) relocate to Rajahstan in search of inexpensive, exotic accommodations.
They find themselves alone in what hapless, fast-talking owner Sonny ("Slumdog Millionaire's" Dev Patel) advertised as a bustling, lively guesthouse. He implores them to stay in his decrepit palace: Unless the business thrives, he will lose his chance to marry the girl he loves. The Brits' natural reserve wanes and soon they have their noses in each other's business, sharing lessons about marriage, love, friendship, sexual orientation, social nuances, adult children and failures on the stock exchange.
There are still vestiges of friction between British colonialism and Indian nationalism. Smith takes the acting honors (the competition is not blistering) as a spiteful, intolerant old thing outsourced to a nearby clinic for a hip replacement. Her horror at being handled by the local doctors is funny and awful all at once. She is the only character that hasn't been smothered beneath a blanket of gentility.
Wilkinson plays a judge with a not-very-hard-to-guess secret life, Dench is a plucky widow, and Nighy is a timid, stammering fellow under the thumb of his domineering missus (Penelope Wilton). None is very engaging, and most of the supporting cast play passive, cozy, ever-accommodating South Asian stereotypes. The whole banal mess feels as if it was lifted from the platitudinous blog in which Dench's character records her musings.