By John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) — To beat or not to beat, that is the question in the sordid sequel “Fifty Shades Darker” (Universal). Sensible people won’t care a whip, er, a whit what the answer is.
Extending a franchise whose appeal seems to be that it offers armchair submissives the erotic equivalent of ordering Fra Diavolo sauce in an Italian restaurant, director James Foley pads out his adaptation of E.L. James’ novel — the second in a trilogy, heaven help us — with nonsexual scenes that range from the boring to the ridiculous. So anyone with a higher interest than mere prurience will be disappointed.
Yearning to revive his relationship with book editor Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson), who doesn’t share his interest in dungeon doings, sadist Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) struggles to control his urges. Whether Mr. Kinky Boots can kick the habit is one of the least compelling questions imaginable, however, and so the mind wanders to other matters.
Is it not pretentious for anyone unrelated to the Romanovs to bear the weighty name Anastasia? Why, in this film’s version of the Emerald City, does it only rain when our heroine is depressed? What would Henry James make of E.L.?
The sketchy plot is founded on a dubious backstory. Christian, we are led to believe, acquired his disordered tastes from a combination of childhood physical abuse and the later tutelage of his adoptive mother Grace’s (Marcia Gay Harden) friend, Elena Lincoln (Kim Basinger), whom Christian nicknames Mrs. Robinson. Koo-koo-ka-choo.
We will leave it to the professionals to explain how plausible it is that Christian has switched sides in the bondage game, going from taking punishment at Elena’s hands to dishing it out to a succession of partners. Equally puzzling is the idea that being mistreated by a man early in life would inspire a mania for walloping women. But there it is.
As for Anastasia, presumably in order to keep things frisky, she occasionally takes a walk on the wild side. But the next minute, she’s back to freaking out over Christian’s 31-flavors approach to bedroom behavior.
To give the movie its due, the central duo does move toward acquiring outward respectability and lending permanence to their bond. So, if there’s a moral to be drawn from Anastasia’s saga, perhaps it’s this: A smack on the butt may be quite continental, but diamonds are still a girl’s best friend.
The film contains excessive sexual content, including aberrant acts, graphic activity and much nudity, several uses of profanity and occasional rough and crude language. The Catholic News Service classification is O — morally offensive. The Motion Picture Association of America rating is R — restricted. Under 17 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian.
Mulderig is on the staff of Catholic News Service.