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Hollywood’s Friday the 13th horror offering for 2018 is “Truth or Dare,” a movie concocted by no fewer than four writers that posits a possessed version of the late-night party game in which trapped participants die if—or rather when—they refuse to play or follow the rules. Obviously inspired by the “Final Destination” franchise (as well as “The Ring” pictures, and, further back, Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None”), it’s produced by the Blumhouse factory, which is actually trying to create a brand by promoting it as “Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare.”

Now Blumhouse has made some successful little horror movies, and one or two good ones, most notably “Get Out.” But this is not among their better stuff. It’s an extremely silly dead teen flick that’s as tedious as it is dumb, hardly the sort of thing you should want your name inextricably associated with.

That goes for the unfortunate cast members, too, who play an assortment of California college friends who go to Mexico for an exciting spring break. The squeaky-clean good girl is Olivia (Lucy Hale), who is enticed into going instead of working for Habitat for Humanity. Her BFF and roomie is flighty Markie (Violett Beane), who unlike Olivia has a studly boyfriend, Lucas (Tyler Posey). A second couple consists of cynical premed student Tyler (Nolan Gerard Funk) and his rather nondescript girlfriend Penelope (Sophia Ali). The other single chum is Brad (Hayden Szeto), a gay kid who’s keeping his sexuality a secret from his macho cop dad (Tom Choi). On their last night of fun south of the border, they’re joined by a thoroughly obnoxious classmate named Ronnie (Sam Lerner).

The group is soon enlarged further by the addition of a guy named Carter (Landon Liboiron), whom Olivia meets at the bar and who invites them all to go to an abandoned mission church nearby for a post-closing time celebration. It’s he who initiates the truth or dare game, in which they all participate until he bolts, telling Olivia that he has saved himself by foisting the cursed thing on them: they must play it indefinitely for its controlling demon’s pleasure—until each of them dies, of course.

Returning to school, they dismiss the whole business as bunk until the game begins intruding on their lives when some stranger or other, wearing a sudden ghoulish grin on his or her face, demands “Truth or Dare!” The seriousness of it all becomes apparent when those who refuse to play, or lie instead of telling the truth, or fail to complete a dare, die. These death scenes are supposed to be clever and surprising, like the ones in “Final Destination” were, but they’re not. They’re just boring.

Even worse are the instances in which, compelled to tell the truth, the potential victims blurt out secrets—about infidelity, or the real reasons behind a relative’s suicide, or about one’s sexual preference, or about who really loves whom. These sorry moments play like bathetic highlights from a bad CW teen soap opera—but that might be a redundancy, since are there any other kind?

As if all that weren’t bad enough, the movie culminates in a long explanation of what’s going on, delivered by a mute Mexican woman who scribbles her revelations on the pages of a scratch pad. The origin of the curse turns out to be ridiculous, and the means of resolving the situation idiotically complicated, leading to still more deaths. An ineptly staged coda proves to be the moment frightening thing the movie has to offer, simply because it threatens a sequel.

The cast struggle to bring some life to the material, but it’s a lost cause, especially considering Jeff Wadlow’s leaden direction. None of the characters go beyond sketch level, and some of them are positively repulsive. As a result it’s impossible to care what fate befalls any of them.
Even technically the picture is a bust—Melanie Jones’s production design is mediocre (especially in the Mexican scenes—with the obviously phony exterior of the church a major flaw), and Jacques Jouffret’s cinematography is often either too dark or imperfectly composed. Sean Albertson’s editing comes across as haphazard—he could have shed at least ten minutes or more without any loss—and Matthew Mergeson’s music adds nothing to the ambience.

Perhaps it’s appropriate that this movie is being released on Friday the 13th, after all, because one thing is certain about “Truth or Dare”: those who go to see it are guaranteed two hours of bad luck.


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.