“I want you back.”
Slogging through Fifty Shades Darker as it blindly longs to encapsulate the kinks of a BDSM lifestyle is a lot like that scene from The 40-Year-Old Virgin where Steve Carell’s character tries to hide his lifelong celibacy by detailing a fictional sexual encounter. He fumbles his way through, quoting lyrics from 2 Live Crew, comparing a woman’s breasts to bags of sand. It’s pretty damn clear – to us and to the guys around the poker table – that he’s out of his element and out of the know. This ignorance plays to great comedic effect in Judd Apatow’s landmark comedy, whereas Fifty Shades Darker takes itself so seriously that the largely unintentional laughs come across as an experientially inept effort at romance, drama, and perversion.
Following their abrupt break-up at the end of the last film, Christian (Jamie Dornan) wants Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) back. How does he go about this? By stalking her, as per usual. By attending an art exhibit and purchasing 6 gigantic portraits of his angel. By coercing her into dinner, ultimately buying the Seattle book publisher she works for, and inviting her to move into his mansion. He brings the supposed love of his life to meet Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), a family friend and the older woman who introduced him to BDSM as an adolescent. Then Anastasia is stalked by one of his previous subs named Leila (Bella Heathcote), all while putting up with sexual harassment from her new boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). Fifty Shades Darker has the look of 1,000 thread count Egyptian sheets covering a messy dorm room bed with no box spring. It’s a beautiful disaster with no shot of getting lucky before 2AM or without one too many shots of half-priced Rumple Minze.
Fifty Shades of Grey is not a particularly great film, but I will say that it’s at least watchable in the sense that time passes and the material is never insultingly stupid. I for one sort of enjoyed bits of it here and there. However, Fifty Shades Darker is little more than a forest fire attempt at sultry exposition and unagreeable chemistry, so soaked in mundanity and drowned out sadness that not even a horny pyromaniac with a gallon of gasoline and a box of matches could bring this one to a roaring flame. Adding more people and more plot lines doesn’t help this film in the least because this is a series with no overall point. This should be carry-on luggage, but increasing the load only demands the weight and the effort of checked baggage.
Fifty Shades Darker was destined and maybe even damned to be bad from the get go. Dornan and Johnson are well-known for their shared disdain towards one another. You can imagine them walking hand in hand, both squeezing the other’s palm out of bitter disgust and contempt. Also, the studio axed a talented filmmaker (Sam Taylor-Johnson) from the director’s chair due to creative differences and brought in James Foley, alongside the novelist E.L. James’ husband Niall Leonard to pen the script. And what we end up with isn’t a service to the fans, but to the narcissistic creator. Fifty Shades Darker will assure masochistic women that affection can be found, and inspire hope in the men ignoring restraining orders out of a self-professed declaration of idolatry to their little bo peeps that love will find a way. Women in my audience laughed out loud for the sexually assaulting line, “You’re not putting that in my butt.” That’s not funny, or creative, or on the brink of hilarity; it’s a desperate lunge towards the shameless shades of levity and lightness that this dungeon dweller strives for but never comes close to deserving.
“It’s all wrong. All of this is wrong.”
Rating: 1.5 out of 5