What timing! In the era of #MeToo and #Time’s Up, it hardly seems like the moment for a movie about a woman who does the sexual bidding of a powerful rich dude. (Though it might be just the ticket on whatever island Harvey Weinstein, Louis C.K., James Toback, Jeremy Piven and other accused male predators are hiding out on.) Audiences are in for two hours of cruel and unusual punishment, even as the third and blessedly final chapter in the film trilogy based on E.L. James’ bestselling bucket of S&M swill conjures up a happy ending for Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and whipmaster hubby Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). Can sex, referred to here as “kinky fuckery,” really be this dull, this sanitized, this devoid of human interest?
Screenwriter Niall Leonard, a.k.a. Ms James’ loyal husband, and James Foley, a fine director (Glengary Glen Ross, At Close Range, several House of Cards episodes) who has no matrimonial excuse for participating, are back for a second go-round. They rejoin Anastasia – Ana to her intimates – and her sadist prince after a glossy honeymoon in France, complete with breaks for being blindfolded and worked over with her husband’s tools. Once they’re back in Seattle, Christian does whatever gazillionaires do and Ana plies her trade as a fiction editor. Mr. Grey owns the publishing house, but tells his bride that she got the job through “talent and hard work” – to be fair, she is extremely good at instructing assistants to “increase a font size by two points.” Her future in the industry is all but assured.
But we digress. Why did the honeymooners return home so soon? It seems that Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), Ana’s former boss and the creep who did all kinds of nasty things to her in Fifty Shades Darker, is out for revenge because she lost him his job. Bring on the sabotage, kidnapping and murder. And quicker than the flick of a cat o’ nine tails, Fifty Shades Freed suddenly turns into a thriller with guns, car chases and last-minute escapes. It just so happens that the filmmakers are equally as incompetent at this genre as they are at generating erotic heat in Christian’s playroom.
Still, all the running around does give Johnson – a clever actress who deserves much better – a reprieve from getting trussed up naked and pawed by her costar. Dornan, to his credit, looks mortified by everything he has to do, including playing piano and caterwauling Paul McCartney’s “Maybe I’m Amazed.” The conflict between our lovers stems from Ana wanting a child and Christian not wanting to share her with anyone else. The mind boggles at what a toddler might do with the toys in the Red Room of Pain. Can our heroine turn the tables and bring her beloved to heel by persuading him to submit to her need to procreate? Would there be a movie if she couldn’t?
As it is, there is no movie regardless, just a series of glossy tableau that lack even the vulgar charge of real porn. At this point, Johnson and Dornan can’t even go through the motions of spank-pant-rinse-repeat with any conviction. They look as bored as we are. Back in 2015, we generously awarded Fifty Shades of Grey a one-star rating. For the sequel, we cut that down to half a star. With this last entry, we have officially hit the bottom of the barrel. Whips, chains, butt plugs and nipple clips are nothing compared to the sheer torture of watching this movie.