In the midst of all the twisted satin knots that adorn “Fifty Shades Darker,” none are worth as much unravel as the absurd tangles of their domineering Christian Grey.
It is a cocktail of money, abs and sex toys that are singularly ridiculous. “The correct term is a sadistic one,” he says in “Fifty Shades Darker,” the second film in a trilogy based on the popular erotic novels of E.L. James.
Gray buys his companies, flies helicopters, knows how to use nipple hooks. It’s like a mixture of James Bond and Dirk Diggler, both handsome and dirty, but lacking in humor. Other more plausible fantasy male figures include the Backstreet Boys and Roger Rabbit.
“Fifty Shades Darker” delves into the demons and traumas of Mr. Gray, played by Jamie Dornan. Much of the fun of the film is to see Dakota Johnson, as the comparatively normal Anastasia “Ana” Steele, trying to act alongside a twisted hunk who wakes up to workout on a gymnastic pony and who knows all the hairdressers of Seattle. Occasionally she begs him to stop acting so weird, but not enough.
“Fifty Shades Darker,” which maintains a white palette like the lily despite the title, retakes the action three weeks after the end of the previous film. After his separation, Christian tries to reconcile with Ana promising that he is ready for a more “vanilla” relationship after his carnal desires scared her. “I want to renegotiate the terms,” he says, definitely speaking like a human being.
The couple quickly returns to their walks. He showers, climb to elevators; he showers again. The sex scenes are a bit warmer, and the sculptural bodies of Johnson and Dornan are up to the job. But the point of view changes a little.
Director James Foley (“Glengarry Glen Ross,” “At Close Range”) took the reins left by Sam Taylor-Johnson, who had clashes with James. While the author wanted the tapes to adhere completely to her, e.g., prose, Taylor-Johnson had the guts to try to improve it and achieved partial success. “Fifty Shades of Gray” was better than expected.
The same can not be said of “Fifty Shades Darker,” the kind of movie that just makes them laugh at their failed dramatic attempts. Not only was Taylor-Johnson replaced, but the script was also written by James’s husband, Niall Leonard. In the end, it remains as a sequence of erotic simulations interrupted with melodrama ornaments that arrive (and are quickly discarded) as unwanted guests in a room. An abusive boss (Eric Johnson) plays a villain (mediocre) for the Christian controller. A figure of the past (an underused Kim Basinger) warns Ana that her boyfriend will only be content with total obedience.
Taking into account the above, “Fifty Shades Darker,” a premiere of Universal Pictures, takes a star and a half of four.