By John Mulderig
NEW YORK (CNS) — Are you looking for a film with dialogue as smart as a whip? Or one that ties you to its characters with inescapable bonds of sympathy? Or a movie so tragic that watching it unfold will cause you the most exquisite, yet somehow satisfying, pain? Well, then, “Fifty Shades Freed” (Universal) is not for you.
Of course, this screen version of the third novel in E.L. James’ tawdry trilogy does feature enough riding crops to keep the 7th Cavalry charging at top speed, as many handcuffs as the police force of a midsize city might require, and at least one discomfort-inducing device so arcane it would likely have left the Marquis de Sade searching for an owner’s manual.
Absurdities alternate with exploitative sex scenes as the seamy saga of fabulously wealthy, controlling tycoon Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia “Ana” Steele (Dakota Johnson), the mousy book editor on whom he so elaborately takes out life’s frustrations, concludes.
With their sadomasochistic relationship now solemnized by marriage, the duo looks forward to a life of private jets, sleek yachts and kinky carryings-on in their penthouse’s well-equipped dungeon. But Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), one of Ana’s former colleagues, is stalking the happy couple, and his aim is not to throw rice on them.
Patrons unwise enough to shell out good money for this campy nonsense will get a facial workout as they roll their eyes, drop their jaws and gurgle derisively at the ineptness of it all.
One memorable faux pas among the many: the moment when hitherto unmusical Christian — a captain of industry possessing all the charisma of a fire hydrant — suddenly takes to the piano to belt out Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed” in Ana’s general direction. Rock ‘n’ roll, so we’re assured, will never die. But in that scene, it’s on life support.
Some late plot developments arguably introduce a pro-life tone to the proceedings. Yet this can hardly make up for the twisted view of human sexuality that pervades director James Foley’s piece of soft-core porn tricked out as mainstream entertainment.
The film contains excessive sexual content, including benignly viewed perverse activity, graphic marital intercourse and much upper female and rear nudity, some gunplay and nonlethal violence, several uses of profanity, at least one milder oath, about a half-dozen rough and numerous crude terms and an obscene gesture. 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.