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FIFTY SHADES DARKER (2017) review

February 12, 2017

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written by: Niall Leonard, based on the book by E.L. James
produced by: Dana Brunetti, Michael DeLuca, E.L. James, Marcus Viscidi
directed by: James Foley
rating: R (for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language)
runtime: 118 min.
U.S. release date: February 10, 2017

 

“Now you know what those silver balls do.”

 

“Fifty Shades Darker” continues the trend established in 2015’s “Fifty Shades of Grey,” wherein an average, plain jane white girl with a stripper’s name = Anatastia Steele, played by Dakota Johnson – is inexplicably the object of obsession for every single man with whom she comes in contact. Her main squeeze, Christian Grey – Irish actor Jamie Dornan (trying valiantly to sound like he’s from America) – is a billionaire sadist who revels in controlling and stalking her. I would love to report that there’s any growth beyond those two sentences in this film – especially considering it was more or less the log line for the first film – but that’s more or less where those two characters begin and end this film.

Anastasia gets a new job as the personal assistant Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), the fiction editor at a Seattle publishing house and then has his job by the end of the film because that’s apparently how things work.

Ah, I get it though, and let me stop you right there. It’s a fantasy, right? It’s all just a fantasy, but that doesn’t really explain this rather bland and hopelessly boring film. It’s a chore to get through, mainly because all of the conflict in the film is manufactured in one scene and then resolved in the next. This film may have the fastest turnaround on a helicopter crash I’ve ever seen, going from crash to tidy resolution in under ten minutes. This film is littered with such instances of lightning fast conflict resolution, but perhaps it’s to give these characters something to do while they’re standing around waiting to have sex.

 

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This film, like its predecessor, has nothing resembling a traditional story arc. There’s no inciting incident, rising action, climax, or denouncement. It’s just two hours of people talking to one another, going back on their word, saying one thing and then doing another, and it’s all set to a barrage of auto-tuned pop songs that more or less explain what’s happening on screen. In other words, it’s Hollywood assuming Americans are dumb and then Americans proving them right by making them wildly successful, smash hits.

Like their stereotypically “lonely male” counterparts enjoy comic book movies, the presumed “lonely women” who attend these films are only there to get swept up in the kinkiness and must crave only familiar elements from the source material. Similarly, the more rabid among the fans will tell you that “turning off your brain” is the only way to enjoy these films. I say it’s a virtual prerequisite, lest you risk overexposing your most precious organ to such nonsense. Just because a film reaffirms your appreciation of the source material doesn’t make it good. A glossy but ultimately untalented cover band of your most beloved musicians isn’t an ideal way to listen to your favorite music, so why should fans of these books be forced to confine their fantasies to the work of a director and actors who seem indifferent to the vast majority of the action going on in the story?

If anything, the “Fifty Shades” films must be doing the books upon which their based a supreme disservice. There’s obviously something in those books that touched a nerve or three million, but these movies are just hopelessly wan and blasé glorified Lifetime movies. Four sex scenes in one hundred and eighteen minutes? That’s one every thirty minutes, give or take. You’re doing smut wrong. That leaves roughly 108 minutes in this film that are so insultingly stupid and horrifyingly boring that even the most ardent defender of the source material would have to do some Dennis Miller-esque byzantine wordsmithing to defend all one hundred and eight of them.

These films are trash, plain and simple, but they aren’t the right kind of trash. They haven’t got an ounce of titillation in them because they’re ultimately designed to appeal to the largest swath of humanity possible. Why not let some first rate adult film company really do these adaptations, because this softcore nonsense feels like a neutered knock off of something far sexier. Give these women – who are clearly eager to plunk down their money to see this film – something to really get off on. At the risk of sounding like Larry Flynt, it’s the truth of the matter. It’s why they bought these books and read them and like them….because they got off on them. That’s got to be it because there is quite literally nothing else here.

 

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I suppose the problem is that most adult films have moved past the tin-eared dialogue and wooden performances. They know that absolutely no one cares about any of that, they came to get down, or at the very least, see someone get down. I respect the women purchasing tickets to these movies, but I can’t help but long for them to get something legitimately titillating to anyone outside of a Mormon housewife – apologies to anyone who fits that description and may have written a series of books that inadvertently spawned this series of books. They can’t seem to get anything else right in these films, at least get the smut right. The sex scenes, problematically, don’t pack any sort of wallop. They’re shot like they were filmed by the guy who directed “Glengarry Glen Ross.” In other words, in a decidedly unsexy manner.

Imagine if these films were directed by someone like Tinto Brass. They’d be utter filth, but at least they’d have a sense of humor about it. They’d offer some modicum of actual, stimulating sexual activity, and not just masquerade as something naughty. They’d actually live up to their potential in that way, but that would never happen. There’s too much money at stake here to actually take a risk, and hence we’re delivered yet another in a long line of neutered Hollywood products. Not half as sexy as they think they are, and not even half of that as sexy as they should be.

For goodness sake, these are ostensibly adult movies, aimed at adults. Stop treating the audience like children and give them what they paid their money to see. I mean, that’s got to be what they’re here to see, because there is literally nothing else here. I’ve stared at it for a hair over four hours now and I can’t find any other appeal. There’s no camp, there’s no humor, there’s nothing to differentiate this from a dour cable television film. Give the people what they want.

 

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RATING 1/2*

 

 

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