In an age where “locker-room talk” has become mainstream conversation, Fifty Shades Darker doesn’t feel shocking or salacious, taking away its primary allure for many moviegoers. It’s only the second film in a planned trilogy that already seems passe.
Indeed, this tedious sequel to the trashy romance Fifty Shades of Grey is more of the same, for better and worse — except that it lacks the freshness of the original and feels more transparent in its effort to appeal strictly to basic instincts.
Ah, the allure of the rich and famous. Picking up where the first film left off, the story continues the tumultuous romance between Anastasia (Dakota Johnson), an emotionally vulnerable assistant at a Seattle publishing firm, and Christian (Jamie Dornan), a billionaire executive with control issues and perfectly manicured facial stubble.
The couple navigates ongoing issues involving commitment and emotional availability while bonding through a shared affinity for kinky penthouse S&M involving Christian’s toy collection. Then their whirlwind fairy tale of lavish excess is threatened by Anastasia’s lascivious boss (Eric Johnson) plus a mysterious young woman (Bella Heathcote) and older woman (Kim Basinger) with ties to Christian’s past.
The second big-screen adaptation of a book in the lurid series from British author E.L. James will no doubt spur curiosity from the legions of fans who elevated the source material to bestseller status and who flocked to the first film with sweaty voyeuristic anticipation, mostly of the female wish-fulfillment fantasy variety.
Veteran director James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross) — who’s also on board for a third installment, due next year — contributes some stylish visual flourishes while staging the abundant sexual gymnastics. Dornan and Johnson carry over the appropriate physical chemistry from the first film, even if the sparks are only sporadic.
However, despite some outrageous twists in the cheesy screenplay, the characters are so aggressively shallow and superficial that it becomes almost impossible to generate sympathy. Character development and feminist commentary get lost in the shuffle, and at any rate, the film takes itself too seriously to allow for much subversive fun along the way.
Neither tense nor titillating, Fifty Shades Darker functions as a showcase for various sexual props and positions that aims below the belt. But like its predecessor, it feels like nothing more than an elaborate tease.
Rated R, 118 minutes.