‘Fifty Shades Darker’ a little better but still dull, dumb

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Christian (Jamie Dornan) and Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) reunited in “Fifty Shades Darker.” | Universal Pictures

You’d think Anastasia Steele and Christian Grey would share a chuckle over the fact they both have porn star names.

You’d think Anastasia would ask the billionaire Christian how many houses he has, or what he does at work every day, or what gets him charged up (besides sex), or whether he has any interest in positively affecting the world around him.

You’d think Christian would try not to be rude to his business associates, the waiter, his girlfriend’s boss or just about anyone else he comes into contact with on a daily basis.

And my God, you’d think these two could talk about something other than the nature of their relationship and Christian’s past, the nature of their relationship and Christian’s past, and …

Well. You get it. You get how repetitive and narrow and shallow and uninteresting “Fifty Shades Darker” is — and yet it’s still a notch above the execrable original.

This is one good-looking, occasionally titillating, mostly soapy and dull snooze-fest.

When last we saw the once-shy Anastasia (Dakota Johnson, speaking in a mousy voice one level about a whisper) and her dominant partner Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, all abs and little acting chops), Anastasia was leaving Christian because he had gone too far with the S and also the M in the S&M, and she was running for her life.

You go, girl!

Alas, E.L. James wrote three lurid, ridiculous, wildly popular erotic novels, and we’re getting three movies, so off we go with “Fifty Shades Darker,” to be followed by “Fifty Shades Freed” in 2018, and then we’ll ALL be freed of this glorified soap opera, which might have worked as a campy and/or super sexy limited mini-series on premium cable, but on the big screen comes across as a paper-thin, often tedious sex-o-drama.

It doesn’t take much for Christian to entice Anastasia into giving things another try. For the first time in Christian’s adult life, he’s willing to try to get beyond the contractual relationships he’s had with dozens of submissive young women before Anastasia. Why, he’ll even let her touch him!

What a guy.

This is one of the fundamental problems with the “Fifty Shades” movies: Christian’s a jerk. A boring, self-absorbed, hotheaded, narcissistic, selfish jerk, whose solution to nearly every situation is to throw money its way.

Or take off his pants.

Anna is a smart, ambitious, charming and pretty young woman in her early 20s trying to make her way in the world. OK, so the sex with Christian is pretty great; every once in a while, they get a little kinky while a sexy techno power ballad kicks in, or they get a little frisky at a restaurant or in an elevator. But Christian is such humorless dolt, such a boor AND a bore, one keeps hoping for Anna to roll her eyes, give him a peck on the cheek and say something like, “Let’s hook up once in a while, but I need something more. Like a person.”

The veteran director James Foley (whose resume includes “Glengarry Glen Ross,” multiple episodes of “House of Cards” and one of the greatest and mostly forgotten movies of the 1980s, “At Close Range”) takes over the reins from Sam Taylor-Johnson, and it’s an upgrade. “Fifty Shades Darker” is stylish and well edited, and yes, the bedroom gymnastics are creative and mildly erotic.

Ah, but the attempts at plot points feel arbitrary and representative of an old afternoon soap opera. The mentally unbalanced stalker (Bella Heathcote in a thankless role), the lecherous boss (an overacting Eric Johnson), the middle-aged bombshell (Kim Basinger, looking like she’d rather be somewhere else) who was Christian’s sexual mentor and is still obsessed with him; a helicopter crash that comes out of nowhere and is resolved in ludicrous fashion:

Yawn, yawn, yawn and yawn.

Pull down all Fifty Shades. This movie made me sleepy.


Universal Pictures presents a film directed by James Foley and written by Niall Leonard, based on the novel by E.L. James. Rated R (for strong erotic sexual content, some graphic nudity, and language). Running time: 118 minutes. Opens Friday at local theaters.

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