By Laurie Coker

Rating: D

Scores read the Fifty Shades novels and scores flocked to the theater for the first disappointing film installment of the wildly popular, super-soft-porn novels. Grey and Steel are back in Fifty Shades Darker. While the sex scenes are more frequent, the story is still as lackluster as, um, the color grey. Director James Foley’s semi-smutty rendering of the E.L. James’ poorly (by her own admission) penned narratives, falls notably on substance and flounders like two awkward lovers in its pseudo-erotic repetition. 

Picking up where the first film left off, Darker opens with the sensually charged couple split up. Anastasia floats though the first few scenes, dramatically lost and forlorn, as we are reintroduced to familiar characters and introduced to a few new ones. Grey is nowhere in sight. Soon, however, after a bit of showboating and begging on his part the couple is on again with a new “contract” agreement. James and screenwriter Niall Leonard have attempted to infuse more intrigue and suspense in the lives of its characters, but their efforts fail and adding more nudity and countless nearly identical sexcapades does little to engage either.

Notably, women in the screening could be heard gasping and giggling guiltily at Jamie Dornan’s bare back and his butt, and chest and his well-chiseled, muscular arms, but the men (there were a few) seemed, at least audibly, less impressed by repeated shots of Dakota Johnson’s bare chest and nearly naked bottom. In Darker, the “red room” is revealed and harbors the unforbidden toys of a man with a penchant for hard play – “I am a sadist,” he coolly announces to Ana, to which she responds by inhaling deeply, opened, pouty, lipsticked mouthed – a look and sound Johnson has mastered for the film. One wonders if daddy Don Johnson attended the opening night premiere.

As with the previous film and the novels before it, there is really no rhyme or reason to the hype and throngs of women taking it all in, other than the obvious – what was once off-limits is now, except via innuendo in Harlequin-style romances or the pages of Cosmopolitan Magazine – out of the boudoir and in this case, on the big screen and in living color. Just the three drops of the f-bomb give it the R-rating and a few “gadgets” from the Grey collection make it a smidge edgier, but still, two hours of pained, sometimes passionate looks, breathy, sloppy kisses and a snippet of unrealistic suspense do not warrant spending full price.

Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele’s world is unbelievable in so many ways, but apparently, it is the stuff that some women love – watching two anatomically ideal human forms writhe and wriggle in satin sheets coupled with the occasional bondage device. Ultimately, the entire affair (pun) feels fake, silly, and annoyingly unrealistic. A D+ might be generous for such unadulterated, drab dribble, but that’s the grade.

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