Thursday, February 8, 2018

'Fifty Shades Freed' (2018) Movie Review

Cards on the table: I haven't seen any of the Fifty Shades of… movies. But that didn’t stop me from watching the final installment of the trilogy, Fifty Shades Freed, which I saw primarily because that’s funny to me. (And I have it on good authority the previous films, especially part two, are hilarious.) It wasn’t. What I bore witness to was the least interesting movie I’ve ever seen.

I don’t mean that as hyperbole, there’s simply nothing intriguing about this movie in any way. What do you call an erotic thriller completely devoid of both eroticism or thrills? Or a movie that’s supposed to excite and titillate, but exhibits the most watered down, conservative version of sexuality I’ve ever seen? (Ooh, there are handcuffs, shocking!) Some may call it a raging failure; a flat, tepid, pointless movie. I call it Fifty Shades Freed.

There’s an utter lack of chemistry between leads Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. It’s been well documented they don’t particularly get along off screen, but that’s not even the issue. Both together and alone, they’re like an on-screen charisma vortex sucking any charm or personality into some nether dimension.

It’s especially frustrating because they can both be very good. Dornan is fantastic in The Fall, and Johnson has been wonderful and captivating in a number of roles. But not here. Dornan’s Christian Grey is supposed to be this intense, brooding sex man, but at best he’s a controlling prick, at worst a petulant snot who pouts when he doesn’t get his way. The story purports to be about power dynamics and control, but it’s more of a tired dick-measuring contest between spouses.

Half the time, Johnson’s Anastasia Grey, nee Steel—Christian’s new wife/sex lady—acts like she’s in a different movie, one where she plays a vapid idiot teen. There are line readings that, while occasionally hilarious, are so throw away and uninspired they make you want to play director and ask the actor to maybe try that one more time. After three movies, it’s like neither could even be bothered to make an earnest attempt.

And to further the cause of fairness, Johnson is topless for roughly one-fourth of this movie. Which, to be honest, is far less than expected given the nature of the franchise and what I’ve heard about the earlier movies. But not Dornan. Sure, Christian frequently shows off his chiseled abs and stout torso, but is it asking too much for him to hang a little dong now and again? Come on, Fifty Shades Freed, know your audience.

The plot begins with the wedding of Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele, the culmination of the BDSM-lite tryst twixt billionaire and awkward underling. Though their new perfect life has one big problem in the form of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), who, from context, was Anastasia’s boss, got fired, and now has an axe to grind. All manner of side plots get shoehorned-in. We’ve got friends and family members that have nothing to do with anything going on here, though I’m sure they connect to the larger franchise and will sate extant fans. But the main thrust of the plot is Hyde trying to get at the Greys and largely succeeding thanks to the most incompetent security team in cinema history. I expect a billionaire could afford better.

While that’s the plot, there is a complete dearth of tension, velocity, and forward momentum. From scene to scene, it’s like they forget they’re being hunted. Oh, this guy tried to kill me, I’m going to go over here by myself now. Niall Leonard’s script—adapting the novel by his wife, E.L. James—is lifeless and turgid, constructed without care for form, structure, or pace, and overflowing with unnatural dialogue and poor storytelling choices.

Every element feels like it was written by someone with no clue what they’re writing about outside of what they’ve seen on television. A courtroom scene has zero real-world relation to the law. Anastasia works in publishing, which primarily means she says random industry words, like “font” and “hard copy.”

Director James Foley (At Close Range) does what he can to add a sense of grandeur or at least spectacle, and Fifty Shades Freed swims in sweeping overhead helicopter shots. The Seattle skyline figure prominently, as well as locations that stand in for Seattle. But seriously, half the movie is a montage of exotic locales that looks like stitched together stock footage provided by various tourism bureaus.

Maybe fans of the franchise will love Fifty Shades Freed. The first two films made more than $800 million, and the books have sold millions upon millions of copies, so there’s obviously a fervent base. But even considering that, it’s difficult to imagine this movie raising anyone’s pulse. Sure, there’s nekkidness and humping, and what I assume is the “butt drawer” I’ve heard so much about, but it’s presented in the least erotic, almost clinical fashion.

Fifty Shades Freed isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever seen, but no one involved appears particularly interested at any point. It’s the cinematic equivalent of a shrug and people picking up a paycheck at the end of the week, and the result is a bland, flaccid wiener of a movie. [Grade: D]

Random Things I Wrote During the Screening:

“What is this movie and why?”
“Was this written by an alien/robot that has never seen any human interaction?”
“Is this what old married couples think ‘spicing things up’ means?”
“He teases her with his meat!”
“Aww, dudes, people are going to eat off that table in the morning.”

1 comment:

Christopher Blevins said...

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