The so-called "romantic" retread "Fifty Shades Darker" is such torture I'd rather be bound up in Christian Grey's Red Room of Pain, gagged with a mouth harness and forced to watch the first half of Super Bowl LI on loop. The movie, the second adaptation of EL James's steamy trilogy about the push-pull seduction of a dominant and submissive sexual couple, is just flat-out ridiculous. It makes day-time soaps look good.
Jamie Dornan is back as kinky billionaire Christian Grey and he's slightly less drippy than he was the first time out. Chiseled, for sure, but still flaccid as a believable character. The lone bright spot remains Dakota Johnson, reprising her role as Anastasia "Ana" Steele, whose sexual awakening we witnessed in the original. A brunette beauty, Johnson has her mother's (Melanie Griffith) girl-next-store allure. She infuses Ana with mix of naivete and assertiveness in an effort to break down Christian's walls. Yes, this movie is a dumb as that sentence I just wrote.
Even with a new director (James Foley, ("Glengarry Glen Ross") and writer (Niall Leonard, the author's husband) it's still not clear why the books became a phenomenon. I don't get it. At it's core, the story is about a wealthy control freak (a self-called "sadist") who emotionally and sexually abuses women because he's got unresolved issues over a victimized childhood. That's not titillating, it's just plain sad -- and dangerous. Equally head-scratching is how the first movie grossed more than $560 million globally after its Valentine's-week release two years ago. This is the dreck women want to see?
Last we saw her, Anastasia smartly hit the bricks, leaving Christian and his mommy-issues behind as the elevator doors shut. "Darker" picks up a few weeks later. Ana somehow nabs her dream job at a publishing house where her boss (Eric Johnson) has the hots for her. A pining and brooding Christian wants Ana back. After a dinner and some time spent way down south in Dixie, Ana agrees, but only if there are "no rules, no punishment and no more secrets." Naturally, there are, otherwise there's no movie.
What happens next is the stuff of a sudsy Lifetime movie full of Harlequin romance novel dialogue and a lip-gloss glow. "Fifty Shades Darker" doesn't know what it wants to be. In between the attempts at rom-com banter, the script tosses in a mysterious past lover (Bella Heathcote) and a spurned suitor to amp up the thrills.
Oscar-winner Kim Basinger ("LA Confidential") is slumming as the Mrs. Robinson-type who threatens Christian's reunion with Ana. Equally squandered is Marcia Gay Harden ("Mystic River") as Christian's mother. Rita Ora, playing Christian's sister, Mia, is mildly amusing.
Let's make no bones; the reason to see "Fifty Shades Dumber" is really for the plethora of erotic scenes, but without the benefit of a director with a knack for sexual choreography or leads with an ounce of chemistry, even those become impotent. And, no, Viagra won't help.
It's all handled in a way that elicits loads of unintentional laughter. If you want hot and kinky, let me point you toward Park Chan-wook's latest provocation, "The Handmaiden." You're welcome.
So, it's two down and one to go with Ana and Christian, which is good news. Unless the studio stays on trend and breaks up the last book into two films. Quick, someone yell the safeword so we can end this pain.
-- Dana Barbuto may be reached at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter @dbarbuto_Ledger.
"Fifty Shades Darker"
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Kim Basinger, Marcia Gay Harden.
(R for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language)