FIFTY SHADES DARKER
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Director: James Foley
Written by: Niall Leonard
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger, Hugh Dancy, Max Martini, Marcia Gay Harden
Screened at: Regal E-Walk, NYC, 2/8/17
Opens: February 10, 2017
James Foley directs a sequel to the 2015 “Fifty Shades of Grey” that goes over more or less the same soft-core porn territory as the first movie, balancing focused looks at hard bodies with some of the limpest dialogue this side of Harlequin romances. Foley, responsible for several TV episodes of “House of Cards” and of his best movie “Glengarry Glen Ross,” is surely making a lot more money with this work but has gone several notches down in artistry. Given the permissiveness of TV these days, there’s not much here in the screenplay by Niall Leonard (aka the husband of the novelist E.L. James, aka Erika Leonard), leaving the credit for whatever is worthy about this sequel to production designer Nelson Coats and costume designers Shay Cunliffe and Karin Nosella. Nor does it hurt that Vancouver’s location to stand in for Seattle is given a tourist-brochure look by John Schwartzman behind the lenses.
Just about anybody in the audience should be able to relate to the tension on exhibit by the two principals—not that most of us had never been courted by billionaires, handsome men, and women who gasp with pleasure at the mere touch by their partners. Boy chases girl, girl chases boy, boy catches girl, a theme that’s universally felt. But we may not have been among these elite people, folks who probably did not vote for Trump. Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson) is now working as an assistant to Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), the fiction editor of a major Seattle publishing house. She has rid herself of Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) whom she met while interviewing him for her outlet. But in her frolics with him, his sadistic temperament overruled his desire to be nice to the shy journalist.
Now Christian acts like a submissive male, begging her at first to come back to him, or at least to have dinner where he promises that they will “only talk.” She agrees provided that there are no contractual obligations. But people don’t change. Poor Christian had witnessed the death of his mother, who overdosed on crack when he was four years ago, and aha: that explains his sadism. Christian buys out the Seattle publishing firm with the goal of eliminating potential competition from the editor—who had the nerve to ask his assistant to join him in New York for a business meeting despite her boyfriend’s refusal to allow such a separation.
“Fifty Shades of Gray” moves ahead in fits and starts like a taxi stalled in New York’s Canal Street traffic, an episodic adventure showing off Christian’s latest sex toys. The repetitive porn scenes do nothing but stall the plot but are there to titillate both genders in the audience. Some of the episodes are comic, even intentionally so, such as when during dinner at a posh restaurant, Christian asks Ana to take off her panties. She complies. Who wouldn’t? When they proceed to a crowded elevator, he does what any ordinary fella would do with a woman sans panties. He then whispers to her: “Don’t come.” Chivalry is not dead.
The posters advertising the movie, notably the huge two in New York’s Times Square area, show Christian adjusting the mask over Ana’s eyes. It was at a masked ball that Ana runs into Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), the woman who introduced Christian to S&M when the boy was fifteen and who now resents the new woman in Christian’s life—as does a crazed Leila (Bella Heathcote) who means serious harm to Ana for taking away her man.
What made the first unit of this trilogy so much better than the current version is that everything was then new. The room with the large sex toys, the tentativeness of the journalist who is asked for her permission to try all this new stuff out. But now that we are familiar with the equipment in Christian’s lavish penthouse, the novelty is gone, and the sex scenes are mere repetitions. At least the first time around, we marvel at the ability of the billionaire to encourage his girlfriend to say “yes” to sexual experimentation. At this point Ana, no longer shy and in fact promoted by a circuitous route to fiction editor, is a liberated person. Indulging her boyfriend’s fantasies is merely rote.
Rated R. 115 minutes. © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online
Comments, readers? Agree? Disagree? Why?
Story – C
Acting – C
Technical – B+
Overall – C