Here's something you'll learn watching Fifty Shades Darker: Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the ridiculously handsome and coolly confident dominatrix, hung a poster for Vin Diesel's The Chronicles of Riddick on his bedroom wall as a teenager. I find that so odd. That means that, of all the movies released in 2004 -- from Sam Raimi's Spider-Man 2 to Pixar's The Incredibles or even Mel Gibson's sadistic The Passion of the Christ -- young Christian Grey was such a fan of Diesel's Riddick sequel (not the original, and much cooler Pitch Black, but the bloated and silly follow up) that he chose to hang a one-sheet on his bedroom wall.
We see the movie poster, clear as day, during an important "emotional" scene between Grey and his tortured lover, Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson). It's super distracting, the Riddick poster. But it's important. Because while I should have been paying attention to Christian and Ana's "riveting" conversation, the leading actors and the characters they play are so devastatingly boring, thinly constructed and hopelessly uninteresting that I spent the bulk of Fifty Shades Darker drifting my attentions into the backgrounds of numerous scenes, getting lost in thought. I admired the gorgeous fireplace that wealthy Christian Grey installed in his chic Seattle penthouse. I studied the design of his modern kitchen during an interminable cooking scene. When this "erotic" duo went grocery shopping during the anticipated sequel (compelling!), I spent the next 10 minutes constructing my own food list, intent on swinging by the store once this tedious exercise concluded.
And yes, that damn Chronicles of Riddick poster sent me on yet another mental tangent about the type of teenage boy who adored David Twohy's goofy space opera enough to honor it with a poster hang. Anything to distract me from wasting even one minute pondering the ridiculous -- and ridiculously anorexic -- plot playing out on screen in Fifty Shades Darker.
Set shortly after the events of the first film, and also based on a novel by E.L. James, Fifty Shades Darker catches up with Anastasia (Johnson) as she has freed herself from Christian's obsessive grip, and is trying to begin an editing gig with a publishing company. She can't elude Mr. Grey forever, though, and soon the two are talking. Then dining together. Then testing the waters of a semi-repaired relationship. Then Christian's tying Ana up with scarves and fastening her legs into something dubbed the Spreader... which has nothing to do with cheeses and fine butters.
Audiences flock to the Fifty Shades movies for the sex. And there's plenty of that "kinky fuckery," as Anastasia so classily refers to it, in this listless sequel. If you didn't get enough of the naked Dornan and Johnson stroking, poking, tangling and tussling in the initial Fifty Shades of Grey film, then Darker continues to scratch that itch. There's still no real passion on screen, and no heat between the actors as they go through their perfunctory sex scenes. Dornan and Johnson conduct their lurid interactions with the carnal intensity of tax accountants diving into a stack of W2s. If they're not interested in each other, how are we supposed to be interested in them?
In between the requisite mattress dances, Fifty Shades Darker offers little else in terms of credible or interesting plot material. Anastasia is being stalked by one of Christian's former subs (Leila), though that conflict is resolved in a comically quick fashion. There's even a helicopter crash -- totally out of the blue -- which would generate some level of suspense, except Christian, the pilot, is missing for a grand total of five minutes, and he and Ana are right back into the Red Room following his accident... so what, then, was the purpose?
One, and only one, scene stood out for me in Fifty Shades Darker, and it awoke me from my mild slumber like a splash of ice water to the face. In it, Christian's sex mentor, played by the iconic and still sultry Kim Basinger, is confronted by her old friend, and Christian's protective mother, Grace (Marcia Gay Harden). Their verbal confrontation provided such a jolt because, finally, real actors were doing something stimulating with this flatlined and pulpy material. The rest of the time, James' words and melodramatic sentiments rested in the hands of Johnson and Dornan, two dreadful performers with absolutely no spark.
The Fifty Shades franchise, in my humble opinion, doomed itself when it cast Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson in the lead roles of Christian and Anastasia. They may be attractive, but they're also deadly dull, and not even a change in the director's chair (James Foley takes over for the departed Sam Taylor-Johnson) can resuscitate this storyline. This sequel ends on a blatant cliffhanger, which will be resolved when the third and final chapter, Fifty Shades Freed, opens in 2018. Good luck with that, folks. After Darker, I am officially "freed" from caring how this story ends, and plan on sitting the last one out.