MOVIE REVIEW: Fifty Shades Darker a bit of a flop
CHRISTIAN Grey isn't a character, he's a patchwork of threadbare romantic cliches.
Powerful but wounded, aloof but emotionally needy, sadistic but tender - no wonder the brooding Seattle billionaire is so conflicted.
To portray him, actor Jamie Dornan is required to switch emotional gear so frequently, his clutch begins to slip.
One minute, Grey is a lovesick puppy so desperate to have Anastasia Steele back in his life that he's prepared to get down on his knees and beg, the next he's a dangerous animal, controlling, jealous, aggressive.
As the fantasy object in a contemporary bodice ripper, Dornan must also convince us of Grey's ability to eventually fulfil the role of dependable protector.
Since he can't commit too far in any one direction, it's hard for the Irish actor to get any emotional traction.
This might go some way to explaining the lack of screen chemistry between him and co-star Dakota Johnson, who has an even more thankless task.
Shy, mousy, self-effacing, it turns out that Ana is the only woman in the world capable of satisfy Grey's complex needs.
(Some of the references in Fifty Shades Darker to Grey's jealous former conquests are downright offensive. "What do you have that I don't?” one character demands of Ana before being committed to the psychiatric unit "where she belongs” without any acknowledgment from Grey of the role he might have played in her breakdown.)
While there are constant references in the screenplay to Ana's fiercely independent nature, she speaks in a breathless, girlie whisper from behind a thick fringe.
And while the publishing assistant affirms her feminist values whenever she gets a chance, she allows Grey to orchestrate a Pretty Woman makeover with only the briefest hesitation (in what amounts to a token act of defiance, she refuses to let the woman who introduced Grey to the world of S & M, Kim Basinger's "Mrs Robinson”, do her hair).
After telling her overprotective suitor that she is more than capable of taking care of herself, Ana is remarkably unassertive when cornered by her sexually-predatory boss, although she does manage to physical disable her would-be rapist before running into the waiting arms of Grey, who swiftly punishes the transgressor.
The contradictions continue.
At the end of the first film, Ana ended her relationship with Grey because she saw how much he enjoyed hurting her (Duh, he's a sadist!)
But after they are reunited in the sequel, she continually flirts with the dark side of his sexuality.
The Red Room in Grey's penthouse has glass cabinets full of assorted bondage gear - whips, chains, nipple clamps - but when the pair finally go back in there, as of course they must, he somewhat dramatically selects a red satin blindfold from one drawer and then rubs Ana's naked body in oil. S & M. Pul-lease!
Fifty Shades Darker is so amateurishly plotted and the characters so badly drawn, the phenomenal success of the novels is extremely hard to explain.
But the raucous guffaws from the audience at the preview screening I attended might offer a clue. Perhaps it isn't being read as an erotic romance at all, but simply as a good laugh.
FIFTY SHADES DARKER
Director: James Foley
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger
Rating: MA 15+
Running time: 118 minutes
Verdict: One star. So bad, it's almost funny.