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"FIFTY SHADES DARKER"
(2017) (Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan) (R)


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QUICK TAKE:
Erotic Drama: A billionaire and a publishing assistant decide to take their kinky relationship to the next level even as forces from his past conspire against them.
PLOT:
Anastasia Steele (DAKOTA JOHNSON) has moved on from her sadomasochistic relationship with billionaire Christian Grey (JAMIE DORNAN). But Christian has not moved on from her. He convinces her to have one dinner with him at which he asks her to "renegotiate the terms" of their relationship and promises to change his ways. He is more attentive and understanding. But he still exhibits much jealousy and has a need to control Ana.

Since their break-up, Ana has gone to work for a publishing company where she is the assistant to dashing fiction editor, Jack Hyde (ERIC JOHNSON). Christian is immediately jealous of the man, makes a move to acquire the company, and promptly forbids Ana from traveling on business with Jack. After Jack sexually harasses Ana, Christian has him fired and Ana is promptly promoted to Jack's job. Meanwhile, Ana is being stalked by a deranged, former submissive girlfriend of Christian's named Leila (BELLA HEATHCOTE). Ana is also threatened by Elena Lincoln (KIM BASINGER), the older woman who introduced Christian to the world of S&M years earlier.

Through it all, the perils bring Ana and Christian closer together and their sexual trysts get increasingly extreme and passionate. This all culminates in a decision by Christian to take their relationship to the ultimate level -- something that delights his adoptive parents, Grace and Carrick (MARCIA GAY HARDEN and ANDREW AIRLIE, respectively); brother, Elliot (LUKE GRIMES); and sister Mia (RITA ORA).

OUR TAKE: 1 out of 10
My high school years felt shorter than sitting through "Fifty Shades Darker." Sweet Caviezel! How did they make a movie about kinky sex so limp, dull, and boring? This was excruciating, folks. It's one of those movies that is so bad, you almost don't know where to begin as a reviewer. Shall I start with the horrible, confused, tone-deaf script? Or the absolutely shapeless structure to the film? Or the awful, scorn-worthy characters?

How about the fact that this film along with the book it is based on is being touted as a "fairy tale" in its marketing. A dark one, the ads acknowledge. But a fairy tale nonetheless. A fantasy. A female wish fulfillment. And the fairy tale, fantasy, and wish you are being granted? To be emotionally and physically abused by a man who wants to control your every move, friendship, career, and dinner order. And such behavior and conduct are perfectly permissible...even desired -- er, as long as the man doing it is an impossibly handsome, 27-year-old billionaire with homes in Seattle, Vail, and Manhattan; a yacht; a fleet of Audis; and a "sob, sob" tragic back story.

I saw this film at a packed preview screening that was at least 75 percent female. And I wanted to pause the film on at least three occasions and ask aloud, "Seriously, how many of y'all went to the Women's March last month?!" I don't understand a lot of things in this world anymore, folks, and I certainly don't understand the appeal of the "Grey" books and movies with female readers and audience members. Christian Grey (a stranded Jamie Dornan) is an absolute scumbag. It has nothing to do with his sexual appetites or yours if that's what you want to do with your partner behind closed doors. Whatever curls your toes.

But Grey mistreats Ana Steele (an increasingly boring Dakota Johnson) so poorly in these two films, that I can't see how anyone watching would have any rooting interest in seeing the two of them together and him redeemed. This is a man who doesn't want to get back together with his girlfriend. He wants to "renegotiate their terms." When she has a publishing job she loves, but a boss he hates -- he buys the company. When Ana's job requires her to go with her boss to New York to a Book Fair, Christian forbids it.

Worst of all, the movie totally lets him off the hook and fails to challenge its target audience by eventually making Ana's boss, Jack (Eric Johnson), transform in a split second into a sexual predator who harasses Ana and tries to force her to have sex with him for job advancement. So, Christian's the hero! He saw through that scumbag right from the very first second he saw him. And how chivalrous that he fires the guy and blackballs him in the business.

"Fifty Shades Darker" always presents Ana as someone who deeply cares about Christian and wants to know all of his pain so she can soothe him and make him all better. That's horse manure! She's clearly drawn back in, time and again, by Grey's wealth, and it is absolutely not acknowledged. But without the penthouse/yacht/wardrobe/checkbook fantasy he flashes in front of her at all times, I can't believe there is any way this "franchise" would have gone past the 20- or 30-minute mark of the first film.

And then it pretty much botches everything else. Christian has a stalker for the first half of the film. But she is easily disarmed and dealt with off-screen. Kim Basinger shows up as the woman who introduced a young Christian to S&M years earlier, and she is jealous of how close he has gotten to Ana. So much potential there, but she is dismissed with a drink to the face and a slap.

Ana goes from lowly assistant to top fiction editor in the matter of ONE COMPANY MEETING! And the most howlingly bad sequence involves Christian crashing in a helicopter, feared dead for all of two minutes of screen time, until he walks in the door of his penthouse with a slight tear in his shirt and a single little smudgy, wudgy wound near his left sideburn. And he didn't even bother to call Ana, his parents, or his siblings to tell them he was alive. Scumbag! Seriously, the TV news they're all watching announces he is alive, and he literally walks into the room at that moment. It's the worst scene I have seen in a major motion picture quite possibly this decade.

Be gone with this film, this franchise, and these characters! I'll give the film points only for its impressive soundtrack packed with sensual ballads and a couple of terrific Sinatra covers (you really don't get films anymore that are packed with good songs -- it's been since the '80s heyday of "Top Gun," "Footloose," etc.) "Darker" is lovely to listen to. Too bad I can't un-see what I have seen. This film warrants no better than a 1 out of 10. (T. Durgin)




Reviewed February 8, 2017 / Posted February 10, 2017


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