‘Fifty Shades Freed’ Is Unshackled Camp
“Fifty Shades Freed“ is vastly entertaining in all the wrong ways. It is the third and (supposedly) final chapter in the franchise that began with “Fifty Shades of Grey,” keeping intact all of its goofiness. It thinks it’s sexy when it’s funny and thinks it’s romantic when it’s creepy. It proceeds from one whacky scenario to another, with twists so bad they’re offensive to grindhouse movies. Nothing is sacred in this film and every basic point of good storytelling is shredded. Even as erotica it’s a downer. The sex scenes are perfume commercials with extra nudity and a soundtrack designed to sell singles or boost Spotify streaming. All the passion has fizzled into a bland, possessive marriage.
Picking up where “Fifty Shades Darker” left off, the latest chapter opens with Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and buffed tycoon Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) getting married. No longer is Ana afraid of Christian’s secret identity as a bondage aficionado, she now happily submits to his various trappings including handcuffs, blind folds and a recurring habit of placing his hand up her skirt during public events. But marriage is marriage and there’s a bit of lingering tension because Ana would like to start a family, but Christian doesn’t like the idea of someone else taking away her attention. Ana is already busy as the head of a publishing house, but it turns out her old boss Jack (Eric Johnson), who was fired for sexually harassing her in the last movie, has returned as a kind of neo-terrorist bent on targeting Grey. Amid all this pressure Ana also has to deal with the architect of her new home with Christian, a flirtatious blonde named Gia (Arielle Kebbel).
The challenge in a third “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie is that the entire premise is essentially played out in the first film. This story is so shallow that all you need out of it is in the opening chapter. We know Grey is into bondage the way Bruce Wayne is secretly Batman, but it’s not as if he (or the filmmakers) can do much of anything with that outside of his own batcave, the “Red Room.” So as this movie opens, Grey and Ana are reduced to a bland couple with lots of fancy shots of them cavorting in fancy hotel rooms, riding jet skis and fondling underneath their clothing. No more sex slave contracts, no more unwashable lipstick lines on Christian’s chest to mark his “boundaries,” these two have sowed their wild oats and are becoming your average boring couple.
And what a boring couple they are. There is never a moment in the entire film where Christian and Ana ever talk about anything, even his business empire. Every scene, whether it is Ana trying to cook or Christian taking a shower leads into hot sex which isn’t hot at all. Because this is still a Cinemark-booked franchise, the sex scenes are all shot following the same pattern, with the camera always finding the same spot on Dornan’s torso or Johnson’s chest. Throw in the cuffs and it’s all really just a somewhat spicier version of what you get in a Nicholas Sparks snoozer, lit like a lingerie ad. Some of the lovemaking is simply absurd. In one scene Christian lets Ana drive his fancy sports car, only to discover that someone is following them. Ana of course proves she can swerve their way out of a tail, and once she finds a parking lot they inexplicably start ripping zippers down (without even checking if they are truly safe).
One of the curiosities of the whole “Fifty Shades” series is the idea that it’s romantic. As in the first two movies, the relationship here always feels bland or even toxic. Christian’s dialogue is the definition of creepy and possessive. In one scene Ana meets with the author of a book her company is publishing (“Purgatory: The Inferno Series”) but when Christian visits he gets upset because the author happens to be handsome. Ana’s phone is essentially Christian’s tracking device for her, and if she’s not home when he wants he punishes her with a little bondage session (there is a scene with a vibrator which turns into absurd farce thinking it is being intense). Take away the money and biceps and this guy would be a character on Netflix’s “Mindhunter.”
“Fifty Shades Freed” is not exactly a boring movie, this is because it has also been cursed with being unintentionally funny. Director James Foley, who you will be astonished to discover directed David Mamet’s “Glengarry Glen Ross,” is straddled with a script written by Niall Leonard (husband of the source novels’ author E.L. James) which jarringly tries to develop a sort of plot by throwing in twist after twist. Not even telenovelas get this whacky. Jack, the fired editor from the first movie is suddenly a sophisticated saboteur in this one, how he funds his schemes are never known. The dialogue is peppered with moments of near self-parody. In one scene Grey’s bodyguards capture an intruder with one guard telling the other to cuff the fiend, receiving instead the reply, “I don’t have anything!” There is a fun payoff to that joke when Ana arrives. Major reveals are done in quick one-liners, and no one seems to act their roles like people caught in traumatic situations. Much of the dialogue is in the style of “Aha! It was so and so who did this and that all along!” Some major characters, such as Kim Basinger’s harpy from the second film are mentioned as part of the story yet never appear.
“Fifty Shades Freed” concludes a trilogy that might just become a camp classic. Like some bad dates, it becomes memorable not because it left you with anything good, but because you’re left with quite the experience to share with others.
“Fifty Shades Freed” opens Feb. 9 in theaters nationwide.