Thursday, February 15, 2018

Spanks For The Memories

Year: 2018
Director: James Foley
Cast: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger
Run Time: 1 hour 45 minutes
MPAA Rating: R

If that's not the best poster tagline you've ever seen, you've either seen a lot of posters or you have much better taste than I do. "Don't miss the climax" is precisely what this franchise needed, throwing caution to the wind and unabashedly embracing its status as frothy, sexy trash. Pretending to be anything else is futile and tedious. Of course, "pretending to be anything else" is exactly what the franchise loves to do, so let's not kid ourselves that Fifty Shades Freed was great, but props to whatever genius made that poster a reality.

Like, let's not kid ourselves about the reason people are watching these movies.

Fifty Shades Freed opens with the wedding of tenacious submissive Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and BDSM stalker-maniac Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), which is treated with all the gravity and care that the people who have waited years for this deserve: as a thirty-second montage during the opening credits. So now they're married, and boy oh boy does that not fix their problems!

Christian is still a control-freak who wants to punish her every time she disobeys an order (you know, like good husbands give). Anastasia still wants to live her own life in addition to fixing Christian (you know, like all good wives must do). And Anastasia's abusive former boss Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) has somehow transformed from a vaguely sexy book editor into a Mission: Impossible villain and is doing everything in his considerable, inexplicable power to take down the Greys, including car chases, attempted kidnapping, and literally planting a bomb in Christian's file room.

Also, they argue a lot about whether or not they want to have a baby, because that's totally a conversation you should have two days after the wedding.

Is it just me, or are they getting married in front of President Obama's official portrait backdrop?

Just like Fifty Shades Darker, I do kind of love how the movie just throws you into the deep end of the plot, sink or swim. Don't remember that two-second scene where Ana pointed at a house while sailing to a Taylor Swift song? Don't remember the auction sequence that was sandwiched between Ben Wa ball sex scenes? Well f**k you, because they are major plot points now, and if you don't remember what happened, you clearly didn't spend enough money on the Fifty Shades franchise to deserve to know what's going on.

Unfortunately, that's just about the biggest compliment I can give to the film, and I'm not entirely convinced that a callous disregard for newcomers goes in the "pro" column for anybody but me. Sure, some of the (very few) good things about the franchise have continued on here, but they're considerably weaker this time around. For instance, Dakota Johnson is, as ever, the best thing about the movie. Although she almost exclusively is forced to interact with Jamie Dornan, whose powerful emotive vacuum leaches the shine off her talents, she still finds the opportunity to deliver the franchise's only genuine belly laugh (an embarrassed admission about the couple owning a pair of handcuffs during a tense moment).

And there are some campy moments that can be squeezed out of this sponge of a movie. I myself quite fancied the honeymoon sequence where, among the riches and elegance of Paris, Christian buys Ana a tacky charm bracelet. And I'm pretty sure a quick jet ski ride completes the franchise's bingo card of putting this couple on every form of transportation ever conceived by humanity. Also, the brazenly conspicuous way that pop songs are injected into the very tissue of this movie, at the expense of all dialogue and plot, is admirably mercenary.

I'm pretty sure you hear more words spoken by Ellie Goulding than by Anastasia Steele.

Unfortunately, there isn't enough camp here to generate more than a passing interest. It's enough that I never felt like the film was a slog at any particular point, but that's about the best I can say for it. Most of what's at play here is just plain bad-bad. The plotting, which has even more unpredictable, inscrutable, low-stakes melodrama than the previous film (which features a helicopter crash with absolutely no setup) and thus should be that much more delightful, is too dizzying and fragmented to be properly picked apart.

Plus, they've really doubled down on the sex here, which really also should have been a bonus, but the love scenes have historically been the least exciting thing about this all-too vanilla franchise. Sure, there are actual handcuffs in this one, which I don't think have actually appeared in the series thus far in spite of being on the cover of at least one of the books, but the artifacts in the massively appointed red room are just used as garnishes to frustratingly dull missionary sex. One gratuitously extensive scene involves ice cream being spooned onto body parts and achieves a remarkable kind of anti-eroticism that just turns the stomach. The only thing to recommend any of these scenes is that Christian Grey's ratty, nudity-obliterating sex jeans have basically become their own character in the most hilarious and faux-meaningful way ever.

But the sad fact remains that Dornan and Johnson have absolutely zero chemistry. It doesn't help that the film's overzealous casting director has given us both Tyler Hoechlin and Brant Daugherty in small roles, thus assuring that Jamie Dornan will literally never be the sexiest person in the frame. This is no slight on Dornan or his body, but just like Tom Cruise needs you to hire short people on set so he looks taller, you can't hide his light under the bushel of a former Teen Wolf.

So, yeah. Fifty Shades Freed is about as average as a big-budget kink picture can be, which makes it massively disappointing. This trilogy has wasted all its incredible potential to sink into trashy excess, and though between the three of them there is probably an 80-minute supercut of bad-good delights, there is no reason to watch any of these movies ever again.

TL;DR: Fifty Shades Freed has a ridiculous plot, certainly, but it's too focused on its boring sex to be a true camp classic.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 1057
Reviews In This Series
Fifty Shades of Grey (Taylor-Johnson, 2015)
Fifty Shades Darker (Foley, 2017)
Fifty Shades Freed (Foley, 2018)

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