Romance, revenge fail to save sex-saturated ‘Fifty Shades’ sequel

Doane Gregory/ Universal Pictures/Courtesy

Grade: D

If Cupid procreated with a sadomasochist, the salacious result would be Christian Grey. America’s favorite sadist returned to theaters this past weekend with enough charm and seduction to keep audiences stimulated in James Foley’s sultry film “Fifty Shades Darker.”  

Based on E. L. James’ erotic novel of the same name, “Fifty Shades Darker” picks up where “Fifty Shades of Grey” left off, with Christian and Anastasia “Ana” Steele confronting demons from the troubled billionaire’s past. A vision of ecstasy, Jamie Dornan electrifies the big screen with his steamy performance as Mr. Grey, while Dakota Johnson resumes her role as Ana, Christian’s submissive love interest. The latest installment offers audiences abundant sex, tasteless one-liners and stale humor that further elevates the series into guilty pleasure stardom. Appealing to hopeless romantics and thirsty moviegoers alike, “Fifty Shades Darker” delivers mundane passion while highlighting its subject matter in the most deviant way imaginable.

“Fifty Shades” opens with Christian reliving his unsettling childhood in a dream featuring his father berating him and assaulting his mother. Unveiling additional backstory to the film’s protagonist, Foley examines the life of a troubled boy who lost his birth mother to drug addiction and who survived domestic abuse. Adopted into a wealthy family by Dr. Grace Trevelyan Grey, Christian would eventually mature to run his own empire and develop a business partnership with Elena Lincoln, a longtime friend responsible for introducing the hunky entrepreneur to BDSM culture and seducing him during his adolescence. Much to Ana’s dismay, Christian values and respects Elena for helping him cope with his internal pain through her valuable mentorship and his complete submission to the dominatrix.

To little surprise, “Fifty Shades” revels in its glory of soapy romance while aggressively parodying its own genre with cheap thrills and a poorly written screenplay that would better serve Marlon Wayans’ deliberately trashy “Fifty Shades of Black.” Whether a scene called for Ana to tell Christian that he distracted her from being romantic with his “kinky fuckery” or for the blue-eyed stud to gift Ana with Ben Wa balls, Foley’s film does not shy from bringing the sexually crude humor of its source material to life. Without doubt, “Fifty Shades” proves a worthy contender for worst picture at next year’s Golden Raspberry Awards, a feat the first installment of the widely held series earned last year.

Aside from the blatant sexism and Grey’s continued obsession with Ana, “Fifty Shades” finds Ana with more agency as she defies Christian’s control and works as an assistant under Jack Hyde, an editor at Seattle Independent Publishing. Portrayed by “Smallville” alumnus Eric Johnson, Jack is a debonair bibliophile whose interest in Ana evolves from subtle flirting to sexual harassment. Remedying the matter, Christian ensures his partner’s safety by using his power to remove Jack from the publishing company. In addition to Elena — or “Mrs. Robinson,” as Ana frequently calls her — Jack becomes the bitter antagonist with a personal vendetta against Christian for his termination and his claim to Ana’s heart. Between a vengeful ex-boss and a domineering lover, Ana is in for an absurd whirlwind of epic proportions.

As the film progresses, Ana encounters a former flame from Christian’s past who was one of the billionaire’s early submissives. Australian actress Bella Heathcote captivates the screen as Leila, Christian’s loopy ex-lover who, too, could not resist her dominator. Fuming with jealousy, at one point Leila tries to murder Ana — but she’s easily thwarted by Christian’s pervasive control and one-word command: “kneel.” Though Heathcote contributes a jaw-dropping performance, Leila’s short-lived character was not enough to rescue Foley’s film from its dreadful demise.  

The single redeeming factor of “Fifty Shades” was its sizzling soundtrack. With songs selected by Grammy-nominated composer Dana Sano, the second installment of the series features new music from John Legend, Sia, Taylor Swift and Zayne, just to name a few. One orgasm-inducing scene from the film depicts Christian spanking Ana while Nick Jonas and Nicki Minaj’s sweltering tune “Bom Bidi Bom” ensues. Though an Oscar isn’t in the film’s future, a gold-plated Grammy might be.

A tawdry Valentine’s Day treat, “Fifty Shades Darker” serves as a worthy escape for audiences to “slip into something a shade darker” and watch a comical trainwreck unfold before their eyes.

Jordan Joyner covers TV. Contact him at [email protected].