FIFTY SHADES FREED

Reviewed by GREG KING

Director: James Foley

Stars: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Eloise Mumford, Rita Ora, Marcia Gay Harden, Bruce Altman, Luke Grimes, Victor Rusak, Max Martini, Jennifer Ehle, Callum Keith Rennie, Tyler Hoechlin, Arielle Kebbel.

Fifty Shades Blander?

Eric Johnson as Jack Hyde

One of the trashiest film trilogies in recent memory reaches its (ahem) climax with the dull and leaden final instalment of the franchise based on E L James’ best-selling erotic novels about a relationship based around consensual BD&SM. The Fifty Shades Grey series of books were badly written, Mills & Boon like – but with a B&D edge. The books were best sellers, and the film series itself has grossed over $1billion at the box office, so there is no accounting for taste.

This final film in the series begins with the wedding between publishing editor Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and mysterious and kinky billionaire playboy Christian Grey (Jamie Doran). After a honeymoon in Europe is cut short by a crisis in Christian’s company its back to business for the couple. She returns to her job at the Seattle publishing company only to find that she has been promoted to fiction editor. She is still rebelling against Christian’s controlling ways and his insistence on her being protected by security everywhere she goes. He is still controlling and very jealous. She desires more freedom and seems to be getting enough confidence to be able to stand up to some of his demands. Once again it is the changing power structure within their relationship that drives much of the drama. When Anna announces that she is pregnant it seems to temporarily cool Christian’s ardour and briefly creates tension between the couple.

Their nemesis, the embittered Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson). Anastasia’s former boss, returns, intent on revenge against the pair. His plot involves a little kidnapping and a $5 million ransom, but this subplot lacks any real sense of suspense or menace. And Hyde seems to be the most incompetent and inept villain since Joe Pesci in the Home Alone movies.

Once again Grey’s partner Niall Leonard has written the dull and inert screenplay, which bears little semblance to reality whatsoever. Even the dialogue is awful and wooden. There are several plot threads that are woefully underdeveloped and go nowhere, and the whole thing seems disjointed as it leaps from scene to scene without any real sense of connection. Much of the plotting also lacks logic. James Foley also returns to the director’s chair, but his handling of the material this time is rather leisurely, which is a shame as he has been capable of better with gritty dramas like After Dark, My Sweet and the powerful Glengarry Glen Ross to his credit.  He seems to be merely going through the motions with this one.

Fifty Shades Freed wallows in its soft-core porn aesthetic, with plenty of scenes set in Christian’s pleasure room, but even the sex scenes are boring. There is even one scene in which the two rub ice cream on each other’s bodies, which will have older and more discerning audiences recall those erotic classics Last Tango In Paris and 9 ½ Weeks. Much of the action is accompanied by a soundtrack of bland cover versions of r&b songs.

Don Johnson’s little girl has consistently been the best thing in the trilogy with her performance getting stronger in each instalment. She deserves better than this tawdry stuff, and hopefully this franchise won’t be a career killer for her. Dornan’s performance is fairly dull and one dimensional. But even worse is the lack of any real chemistry between Johnson and Dornan.  Oscar winner Marcia Gay Harden reprises her role as Christian’s hard-nosed mother, but she is only given a couple of perfunctory scenes here.

The film is tastefully shot by cinematographer John Schwartzman, who delivers some gorgeous shots of the Seattle scenery. Glorious postcard like vistas of European locations in the early scenes also give the film a glossy visual surface, but apart from making you wish you were there instead of in a darkened cinema watching this tripe they add little to the film. Nelson Coates’ slick production design is also very good. We get plenty of shots revealing Christian’s opulent and shameless lifestyle, with his private jets, yachts, cars and penthouse apartment. And there is plenty of gratuitous product placement.

★☆

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