Film Review: Fifty Shades Freed

A saga of sadomasochistic romance reaches its end, in a well-produced, poorly acted and thoroughly unnecessary installment.
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Dakota Johnson posing and pouting as Anastasia Steele, like some naughty sorority sister. Eric Johnson sneering as the nefarious Jack Hyde, his eyes as red as a rat’s. Jamie Dornan as a puppyish Christian Grey, sitting down at a grand piano and launching into “Maybe I’m Amazed.”

Quick, quick, what’s my safe word again?

Unfortunately, there’s no escaping the pain of Fifty Shades Freed, the definitely anti-climactic finish to an S&M saga that began by bringing out the whips and chains, and now ends only by pulling out some pretty photography and clichés. What once began with promises to get nasty now ends by threatening to bore us to death.

The porny publishing phenomenon began as amateur “Twilight” fan-fiction—what if Edward and Bella really let their hair down?—but eventually morphed from an online hobby into an actual, best-selling novel. The film adaptation debuted in 2015 and two years later the movie version of the sequel, Fifty Shades Darker, followed it to the screen.

The first picture, at least, kept things simple, concentrating on the sex between naïve Anastasia and domineering Christian. The second, though, started amping up the melodrama, like an abusive woman from Christian’s past, and Anastasia’s nefarious ex-boss, the evil Hyde. (As you can see, corny character names are one of this saga’s specialties.)

By this go-round, though, all that’s left is the soap opera. In fact, the whole thing feels a little bit like a very special episode of “The Young and the Restless,” dragged out to feature-movie length and with the detergent commercials replaced by soft-focus sex.

Plush production values help distract from some of the padding. After a brief wedding sequence, the young marrieds fly off for a travelogue-worthy honeymoon in Paris; midway through the film, there’s a trip to a luxe sky lodge (where Dornan unveils his Paul McCartney tribute). Private planes, snazzy cars and designer dresses all make their appearance, too. There’s also plenty of not particularly involving plotting, including a woman from Christian’s past and an adulterous architect, while Hyde returns for more improbable villainy.

That this film, like the last sequel, arrives courtesy of James Foley—the auteur who once gave us the prickly After Dark, My Sweet, the teen-noir Fear and the classic, corrosive Glengarry Glen Ross—remains a little surprising, but if this is a job for hire, the producers certainly got their money’s worth. The film is prettily photographed by John Schwartzman and the pop that covers the soundtrack, wall to wall, is sure to provide a few hits. The whole thing will probably please the franchise’s hard-core soft-core fans, right down to the favorite-moment flashbacks that unspool before the final credits.

But none of the actors makes any impression. Johnson, whose gaucherie was once refreshing, has lapsed into sullen immaturity; Dornan never rises above male-model posing. (Although that both of them can be so constantly naked and consistently boring is a sort of achievement in itself.) Eric Johnson chews a lot of indigestible scenery as the loathsome villain and the rest of the large supporting cast is completely wasted—including Oscar-winner Marcia Gay Harden, reduced to two quick scenes as Christian’s mom.

And so, torturously, it all goes on and on, beating a dead horse. Really, what was that safe word again?

How about: Enough.

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