By Mark Saldana

Rating: 2 (Out of 4 Stars)

The title of this movie promises a much darker tone than the first installment of the series. However, after watching it, I can definitely say that Fifty Shades Darker is a misnomer.  If anything, this sequel offers an attempt at something more romantic, poignant, dramatic and erotic.  Depending on one’s tastes, this film might satisfy on all levels.  As far as this movie critic is concerned, though, I found it moderately romantic, a tad more intriguing than the first film, melodramatic, and rather weak when it came to the erotica.  Much like the first film, the sex scenes play out like a soft-core movie on Cinemax and any attempts at drama here play out like a corny soap opera.

After breaking up with Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) begins work at a publishing company under editor Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson).  Grey hasn’t given up on their relationship, though.  He continuously tries to stay in contact with her, sending her flowers and gifts regularly.  He finally catches up with Ana at her friend Jose’s (Victor Rasuk) photography show.  Ana reluctantly agrees to have dinner with him where he opens up and agrees to a “vanilla” relationship on her terms.  As the two lovers get to know each other better, things progress rather quickly, but the scorned lovers from Christian’s past pose serious threats to their relationship, in addition to a new enemy who wants to destroy the couple.

Adapted by screenwriter Niall Leonard (based on the novel by E.L. James) and directed by James Foley, Fifty Shades Darker is a film that is more hokey and less risque than the first film and feels structured like a porno/soap opera hybrid.  When I say that, I mean the film has “romance” or “drama” followed by a sex scene, followed by more “romance” and/or drama, rinse and repeat.  The drama, or rather melodrama, gets as hammy and staged like episodes of Dynasty, Dallas, or just about any soap opera period.  The development of Christian Grey’s backstory is actually more interesting than that in the first film, but these revelations lead to more hokum and ham.

The performances in the movie is a mix of solid work, affected emotions, and pompousness. Dakota Johnson has shown decent work in other films–nothing that really stands out, but effective.  Here, though, her emotions are poorly executed and feel insincere.  She does have a decent chemistry with Jamie Dornan, but I feel that his better acting is helping to carry her performance.  Dornan’s work is a bit inconsistent at times, but feels more sincere and shows more range than his cold and flat work in the previous movie.  The improved development of his character allows him to do more in this installment.  Eric Johnson, who stars as Ana’s new boss Jack Hyde, gives a turn that proves he has the chops to pull off a mustache-curling soap opera villain.  He is the main culprit of the ham and cheese in the movie and his scenes had me both cringing and laughing.

And if one likes ham and cheese in their soft-core soaps, then this is the movie to go see. Granted, I am not the intended demographic for this movie, and there were plenty of women at the screening, swooning and squealing with glee as the events of the movie played out.  As for me, if I wanted to watch content similar to this, I could have stayed home and watched late night Cinemax or reruns of Dynasty.  I prefer my ham and cheese in a sandwich and not in my cinema.





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