FIFTY SHADES FREED

Producer: Michael De Luca, E.L. James, Dana Brunetti and Marcus Viscidi
Director: James Foley
Writer: Niall Leonard
Stars: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Eric Johnson, Rita Ora, Luke Grimes, Victor Rasuk, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden, Eloise Mumford, Max Martini, Arielle Kebbel, Brant Daugherty, Amy Price-Francis and Tyler Hoechlin
Studio: Universal Pictures

F

The third—and one devoutly hopes, last—installment in the franchise filmization of E.L. James’s novels on the Lifestyles of the Obscenely Rich and Emotionally Stunted begins with the grossly ostentatious wedding of mogul Christian Grey (Jamie Doran) and his mousy lover Anastasia (Dakota Johnson), but marriage does not resolve all the issues between them.

For one thing, though he takes Ana off on wonderful trips to exotic locales in his big plane, Christian doesn’t want her showing too much skin on the beach. Nor does he appreciate her choosing to continue using her maiden name as the new fiction editor at the publishing firm where she insists on continuing to work. She doesn’t want to “lose her identity,” you see. But he sheepishly concurs.

The bigger disagreement, though, is about having children. She wants to; he says he does too, but not right now. That will cause a rift between them, especially since—as Ana notes—things happen when people have a lot of sex, as they do, even when they are taking precautions (or claim to be doing so, at least).

As for that sex, it’s sometimes of the regular variety, but often involves trips to the duo’s famous red room, where it takes more playful forms, shall we say. You know what those are from previous episodes in the franchise.

All of that pales, though, beside the fact that someone is threatening the pair. “Fifty Shades Freed,” you see, wants to be a thriller as well as a piece of soft-core erotica, but totally fails as either. The sex scenes are remarkably tame—a bit of skin here, a dollop of domination there—and timidly dull. As for the stalker plot, it allows for a car chase through the streets of Seattle (not very well executed, it must be said), but quickly deflates because the perpetrator—a former boss of Ana’s called, none too subtly, Hyde (Eric Johnson)—is revealed very early on.

Sometimes that twist can work—think of a film like “Vertigo,” for instance. But for it to do so, it needs a master like Hitchcock at the helm, and James Foley, though he made a few interesting pictures early in his career, is far from being one. He lets the supposedly suspenseful plot thread dribble on tediously until he tries to tie it all up in a poorly-managed twist that involves a kidnapped family member and a race to save her. It doesn’t help that the villain’s motivation, when finally revealed, is utterly ludicrous. It might be noted that in all this the high-priced security team in the Greys’ employ proves supremely inept and stupid, but no more so than the people who hired them.

Visually this dreary nonsense is presented like a glossy but dull magazine spread, the luminous cinematography of John Schwartzman designed to obscure the sheer vacuity of what’s being depicted—including the performances (to use the term loosely) of Dornan, whose bland stiffness never varies, and Johnson, whose idea of acting appears to consist in screwing up her face in kewpie-doll pouting to suggest emotional turmoil. Both are matched by Johnson, who huffs and sneers in a failed effort to appear menacing. The rest of the cast—including proven talents like Marcia Gay Harden—are utterly wasted, especially Rita Ora, who’s compelled to endure sheer humiliation in the terrible last act.
Overly languid editing by Richard Francis-Bruce and Debra Neil-Fisher, which seems designed to linger over Schwartzman’s ogling of Nelson Coates’s production design and Shay Cunliffe’s costumes, as well as the succession of awful pop music tracks (Danny Elfman’s original score being virtually invisible) cap an indigestible cinematic meal.

It should be added that “Fifty Shades Freed” adds a postscript suggesting an idyllic future for the Greys. But one has to wonder whether all the kinks in their relationship—if you’ll pardon the expression—can be so easily ironed away.

As bad as the first two episodes in this series were, this final installment is the worst. Every person buying a ticket should really be issued a personal safe word, to be used to bring the movie to a halt when it becomes intolerable. That could have saved a lot in production costs, since fifteen minutes of footage would probably have been enough to cover all comers.