“Fifty Shades of Grey” became a literary sensation, heightening anticipation for a movie that proved more silly than sizzling. Its sequel, “Fifty Shades Darker,” goes well beyond that on the groan meter, repeatedly failing to pass the unintentional-giggle test.
Obviously, the idea is for the movie version of E.L. James’ novel to be sexy and erotic, from star Jamie Dornan’s impressive biceps to its dominant-submissive naughtiness. But reminiscent of the old joke that “kinky” means using a feather and “perverted” involves the whole chicken, “Fifty Shades” basically plays like an overstuffed turkey.
For starters, this latest adaptation barely qualifies as a functional movie, in terms of possessing a plot and a beginning, middle and end. Indeed, the story doesn’t so much finish as run out of time – following a hilarious interlude seemingly designed just to prolong matters – before promising (or perhaps threatening) another edition a year from now.
If the first film dealt with Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) trying to decide if she could accept the special sexual appetites of the billionaire businessman Christian Grey (Dornan), including bondage and spanking, the formula here loosely turns the tables. That’s because with Anastasia having left him, it’s Christian who’s left trying to prove that he can evolve – that he wants her back badly enough to set his needs aside, at least partially, in order to be with her.
Heck, he’s even willing to “renegotiate terms” of their relationship. With an offer like that, who could possibly resist?
Director James Foley takes the reins and tries to build some suspense around that, as well as side plots like Christian’s former submissive-turned-stalker and Anastasia’s creepy boss (Eric Johnson). The movie also introduces Kim Basinger – very appropriately, given her early-career turn in the then-salacious “9 ½ Weeks” – in what amounts to a cameo as Christian’s one-time lover who ushered him into this sadomasochistic world.
Still, none of it really adds up to much, and the sensual flourishes – like sneaking off together during a masked ball – can’t obscure the laughs that the most risible dialogue elicits. By the time Christian earnestly tells her, “I know I’m complicated,” “Fifty Shades” has entered midnight-movie camp territory.
In that respect, the frequent use of musical montages – as trite and heavy-handed as they are – comes across as something of a relief, simply because during those stretches, nobody’s talking.
American movies have a longstanding reputation of being more adventurous regarding violence than sex, and “Fifty Shades” scored initially by flipping that script. Apparently, even with what will likely be diminishing box-office returns, the franchise will hang on a little longer. And unlike its brooding leading man, there’s certainly nothing complicated about why.
“Fifty Shades Darker” opens in the U.S. on February 10. It’s rated R.