Fifty Shades Freed pales as softcore porn

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Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return as the newly married Greys in the less kinky, more frivolous Fifty Shades Freed. Courtesy Universal Pictures Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return as the newly married Greys in the less kinky, more frivolous Fifty Shades Freed. Courtesy Universal Pictures

This whole thing started as porn, right? Like, I’m not making that up, am I? I don’t say that to ridicule anyone’s idea of what’s sexy—you do you and have fun doing it, don’t apologize if no one’s getting hurt—it’s just puzzling to sit through a silly, directionless adoption/kidnapping intrigue with a vague notion that this is the hottest, kinkiest thing to ever reach mainstream audiences. At some point, this series went from Anastasia Steele’s (Dakota Johnson) exploration of the forbidden side of romance with a mysterious, handsome billionaire as her guide to a half-baked TV-grade family drama/thriller that frontloads the sex scenes and flails around for the remainder.

Fifty Shades Freed
R, 105 minutes
Alamo Drafthouse Cinema, Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX, Violet Crown Cinema

Let’s put aside that Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) is less of a master of kinky sex and more of an emotionally distant control freak who describes his turn-ons so dryly with such gratuitous jargon that it sounds like he’s trying to recite a Wikipedia entry from memory. Who wanted this? Who likes this? There is nothing notable about this story or these characters outside of their sex lives, which have turned into an afterthought. There wasn’t much to the sex when it was there, at least not since the first half of the first movie, when director Sam Taylor-Johnson and star Johnson seemed to enjoy squeezing whatever quality and fun they could from the source material. Not Dornan, though. Everything about him and his performance has been wrong since the beginning, from his apparent confusion about the character’s relationship to sex to the strange way he moves his mouth to conceal his accent. Maybe he can be good, but while Johnson turned the empty vessel of Steele from the books into a curious adventure seeker who knows this is silly but does it anyway, Dornan does the opposite by finding ways to make Grey even emptier.

What is this whole thing about, anyway, other than two and a half movies too long? Fifty Shades Freed begins where Darker, the previous installment, left off. Ana and Christian have gotten married, but Ana’s old boss who assaulted her is after them. Ana gets pregnant, someone gets kidnapped but then it’s okay in the end. Who exactly is being freed and from what remains unclear, unless the title refers to the literal freeing of the kidnapping victim, which would be weird since that’s only about 10 minutes out of the whole movie. It’s like someone dropped two scripts at the same time, one an erotic adventure and the other a Lifetime movie, picked up the jumbled pages and proceeded with production without sorting.

Fifty Shades of Grey was adapted only because the book sold preposterously well, and then the sequels were made because everyone signed paperwork saying they would be. There isn’t an ounce of life or believable human interaction to be found, a necessary component for good screen romance. Taylor-Johnson did a miraculous job making as much of the first installment as good as it was, though her more intelligent and playful tone supposedly led to conflicts with author E.L. James. Now we have James Foley slumming it, putting things in the movie because they were in the book whether they make any sense, his Glengarry Glen Ross days a distant memory.

This Valentine’s Day, see or do absolutely anything else. Go for a drive and read street signs aloud. Sit motionless in a dark room. Read nutritional facts to your partner. You’ll have a more romantic time than at Fifty Shades Freed.


Playing this week

Alamo Drafthouse Cinema
377 Merchant Walk Sq., 326-5056

The 15:17 to Paris, The Birdcage Feast, The Greatest Showman, Lady Bird, Peter Rabbit, The Post, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, Winchester

Regal Stonefield 14 and IMAX
The Shops at Stonefield, 244-3213

12 Strong, The 15:17 to Paris, Darkest Hour, The Greatest Showman, Hostiles, Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle, Maze Runner: The Death Cure, Paddington 2, Peter Rabbit, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Winchester

Violet Crown Cinema
200 W. Main St., Downtown Mall, 529-3000

120 Battements Par Minute, 2018 Oscar Nominated Shorts, The 15:17 to Paris, Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, I, Tonya, The Notebook, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri

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