Fifty Shades Darker is too silly to be sexy

The Hamilton Spectator - - A&E - KATIE WALSH

The “Fifty Shades of Grey” book and film fran­chise po­si­tions it­self as naughty soft-core eroti­cism for fe­male au­di­ences, but it’s hard to find any­thing all that arous­ing when laugh­ing this hard. The sec­ond in­stal­ment, “Fifty Shades Darker,” is pure camp. Au­di­ences will be in ec­stasy all right — from hys­ter­i­cal laugh­ter. While de­cid­edly not a com­edy, there are times when you have to won­der if the film is in on the joke. Star Dakota John­son def­i­nitely seems to be.

John­son’s sub­ver­sive and sly know­ing­ness is what makes her per­for­mance de­cep­tively great. At first her shrink­ing vi­o­let act is ir­ri­tat­ing, un­til you re­al­ize that her flushed and whis­pery rou­tine is part of a whole thing. She’s com­mit­ted, and seems far smarter than the ma­te­rial.

The plot of “Darker” is fairly mun­dane, cen­tred around the re­u­nion of Ana and her dom­i­nant part­ner, Chris­tian Grey ( Jamie Dor­nan), a young bil­lion­aire with a play­room that’ll make you blush. As an in­de­pen­dent young woman who “loves work­ing,” Ana’s got her reser­va­tions about be­ing truly sub­mis­sive, and therein lies their co­nun­drum. Truth be told, they’re both in­tensely bor­ing peo­ple who don’t have any hob­bies out­side of sex, and their re­la­tion­ship is a snooze.

Speak­ing of the sex, de­spite the ex­pen­sive ac­ces­sories, it’s pretty tame. Most of it is or­ches­trated around fe­male plea­sure, but staged for the male gaze, so it’s a bit con­fus­ing about how we’re sup­posed to en­joy it. The en­tire “Fifty Shades” canon has been au­thored by women un­til now: from E.L. James’ pulpy nov­els, to the source text for her erotic fan fic­tion, “Twi­light” by Stephe­nie Meyer. And women were be­hind the cam­era and the screen­play for “Fifty Shades of Grey.” With women in charge, it helps nav­i­gate the trick­i­ness of equat­ing sex­ual sub­mis­sion and fe­male de­sire, po­si­tion­ing it as an em­pow­ered plea­sure and not porny degra­da­tion.

But Ana has to work over­time as both sex­ual ob­ject and sub­ject. Chris­tian isn’t sexy, and the cam­era seems to have no in­ter­est in him as an ob­ject. Dor­nan’s good looks are hid­den un­der a layer of puff and scruff, and though he’s not a bad ac­tor, he’s com­pletely lack­ing in charisma here, play­ing Grey with all the charm of a so­cio­pathic frat boy. Even his con­ces­sions to lov­ing com­mit­ment are com­mands. Some ro­mance.

De­spite “Grey” rak­ing in more than $100 mil­lion at the box of­fice, “Grey” di­rec­tor Sam Taylor-John­son has been bounced for di­rec­tor

James Fo­ley, with a script by E.L. James’ hus­band Niall Leonard. Things don’t bode well for third in­stal­ment “Fifty Shades Freed” with th­ese two on board, as the writ­ing and di­rect­ing here is ter­ri­ble.

There is no emo­tional through­line that makes sense from scene to scene, or even within sin­gle scenes them­selves. Ana will chide Chris­tian or they’ll fight, and then the next mo­ment she’ll lov­ingly com­fort him. They never seem to be on the same page, or even in the same con­ver­sa­tion, and there­fore their love story is a com­plete sham.

The last third of the film de­scends straight into a com­bi­na­tion of “Dy­nasty” with shades of cult clas­sic “The Room.” It’s fan­tas­tic be­cause it’s com­plete and ut­ter silly mad­ness. Heli­copter crashes! Slaps! Drinks thrown in faces! Fully clothed shower sex! A framed “Chron­i­cles of Rid­dick” poster! All the mak­ings of an in­stant cult clas­sic.

UNIVERSAL PICTURES

Jamie Dor­nan as Chris­tian Grey, left, and Dakota John­son as Anas­ta­sia Steele in "Fifty Shades Darker."

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