FIFTY SHADES DARKER
* (out of four)
DIRECTED BY James Foley
STARS Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan
There are at least 50 reasons why Fifty Shades Darker is almost every bit as awful as Fifty Shades of Grey, the 2015 box office smash that centered on the relationship between BDSM-lovin' billionaire Christian Gray and mousy college student Anastasia Steele. Based on the second book in E.L. James' bestselling phenomenon, this one finds Ana (Dakota Johnson) now working at a Seattle publishing house and Christian (Jamie Dornan) attempting to woo her back into his life.
The major liabilities of the first picture have been neatly carried over into this latest endeavor, beginning with the fact that the general prudishness permeating throughout American society makes it impossible for Hollywood to produce an honest, provocative or explicit film about S-E-X and have it receive an R rating. Therefore, like its predecessor (also R), this one will only titillate basement-dwelling fanboys who will illegally download it lest they be mocked for actually watching it and arouse bored suburban housewives who made the mistake of marrying dullards who are awful in bed. It's a vanilla picture that fancies itself daring and erotic, but as is par for the course in stateside flicks, the penises are kept sheathed while the boobies bounce all over the frame. The casting of Johnson and Dornan also continues to hurt, as they have yet to muster any mutual chemistry. Honestly, viewers will likely find more sexual currency in The LEGO Batman Movie than in this picture.
Fifty Shades Darker attempts to add some narrative heft in the second half with an incident involving a wayward helicopter, but it's a purely melodramatic device that brings to mind a lesser episode of Dallas, the sort in which Miss Ellie, Pam, J.R. and the rest of the Ewing clan anxiously await news regarding the whereabouts of Bobby. On the show, it would probably make for a three-episode arc; here, it lasts all of 15 minutes, making its insertion especially pointless.
There are a couple of homages worth noting. In one scene, Ana gives a speech to her secretary that's the exact same one delivered by Melanie Griffith's Tess McGill to her secretary in 1988's Working Girl. Considering Griffith is Johnson's mother in real life, I'm gonna assume this was meant as a tribute and isn't an act of shameless plagiarism. And Kim Basinger is on hand — wasted, but on hand — as Christian's former mentor and lover; given that the actress once starred in 1986's controversial 9-1/2 Weeks, another movie about potentially abusive sex games, this casting might have been a deliberate nod as well.
Some unintentional laughs help in getting through the rest of this mess. I love how circumstances — specifically, sexual harassment by a grab-'em-by-the-pussy boss (Eric Johnson) — force Ana to get instantly promoted from book reader to fiction book editor, whereupon she attends a company meeting and schools the Luddites on the wonders of the Interwebs. And I chuckled at seeing the poster for the Vin Diesel flop The Chronicles of Riddick hanging in Christian's childhood bedroom. Granted, Universal Pictures is the studio behind both the Riddick and Fifty Shades series. But The Chronicles of Riddick? Not even Pitch Black but The Chronicles of Riddick? C'mon, Universal, not even Vin Diesel would own a The Chronicles of Riddick poster!