'Fifty Shades Darker' Review: Sequel to Kinky-Romance Hit Is 50 Percent Dumber

Everyone's favorite S&M couple returns – and the result is more painful than you could possibly imagine

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'Fifty Shades Darker' Review: Sequel to Kinky-Romance Hit Is 50 Percent Dumber
"'Fifty Shades Dumber' is more like it." Peter Travers on 'Fifty Shades Darker,' the kinky-romance sequel that may be the most painful movie of 2017.

Fifty Shades Dumber is more like it. In our shockingly generous one-star review of Fifty Shades of Grey in 2015, we dismissed the film version of E.L. James' bestseller as Cinderella porn – an S&M fantasy so sanitized it couldn't shock Aunt Tillie. Now here's the followup, again with Dakota Johnson, again vainly trying to have fun as Anastasia Steele. She's is no longer a virginal English major, but a magazine intern with a head for literature and a bod for sin. As you remember, Ana has parted ways with billionaire hottie Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), because genital clamps and caresses from a cat o' nine tails aren't her thing. And Christian, poor baby, can't get off without them. Her focus now is upping the profits of the publishing house she's working for by adding young authors who worship the demigods of digital. What a concept!

And what an incredibly, indelibly idiotic movie. James, the British author responsible for this I-like-it-rough book club favorite, showed the perks that come with bestsellerdom: Out went Kelly Marcel, who wrote the first film; in comes Niall Leonard, a.k.a. James' husband, to maybe shed a little light on all this dominant-submissive stuff. Sam Taylor-Johnson, who directed the original movie, also fought with James; she's now been replaced by James Foley, who made At Close Range (1986) and the adaptation of Glengarry Glen Ross (1992). This, however, is not Mamet – it's a beast of roaring stupidity that devours everything in its path, including the veteran filmmaker. Hallmark should buy the rights to Christian's line to Elena (Kim Basinger), the older woman who seduced him as a boy. "You taught me how to fuck," he tells her, "but Ana taught me how to love." If you've read about the derisive laughter that greeted this cinematic disaster at its first New York screening, here's one reason why.

The plot? It's basically the same as the first time: Ana goes back to Christian after he rescues her from her sexual predator of a boss (Eric Johnson). Christian lets Ana touch him now (hint: he'd been sexually abused as a child), but only in designated areas that he marks on his body with lip gloss. Such gallantry! And for guys looking for Valentine's Day ideas, our heroine seems to adore her present of vaginal beads – the gift that keeps on giving! – and having her butt spanked a rosy pink. No ugly, red bruises here, except to logic and sanity. And what to make of Ana's suddenly stunted vocabulary. Seeing Christian's boat, she sighs "beautiful." The sight of his mansion evokes another "beautiful." And eying the gown Christian's mom (a criminally wasted Marcia Gay Harden) wears to a costume ball, Ana can only say ... "beautiful." Were there only a limited number of words allowed in the script?

As for the sex, it's utterly joyless. Yes, the bodies of Johnson and Dornan are – wait for it – beautiful. But the only conviction the two stars bring to their roles comes in their mutual awkwardness and eye-rolls that suggest going down on each other is an endurance test they can't wait to be over. (Will Arnett and Rosario Dawson generate more erotic heat in The Lego Batman Movie. And they're made of plastic.) Ana calls Christian's desires "kinky fuckery," but where the hell is it? Confronted with Christian's Red Room of Pain, Ana can only gaze at the array of whips and chains and wonder, "Does the maid dust in here?" This softcore swill is hardcore awful. Note to masochists: This team with return to film James' third book, 50 Shades Freed. You have your work cut out for you.