★ 1/2 | MOVIE REVIEW
Doane Gregory/Universal Pictures
A lot happens in “Fifty Shades Freed,” the final installment of the “Fifty Shades of Grey” movie franchise.
There’s a wedding, an international honeymoon, a heated debate about pregnancy and birth control, a kidnapping, and a gunshot wound. There’s also a lot of sex, sometimes with toys.
But despite all of these plot points, “Fifty Shades Freed” is as boring as . . . well . . . Christian Grey and Anastasia Steele. It’s a trilogy climax that should be fun, but it’s monotonous — maybe because we’ve seen it all before.
I should start by admitting that I reviewed the first two “Fifty” movies, in 2015 and 2017, and and was kind to them, even though they weren’t great. With the first, my expectations were so low that when they were exceeded, I was giddy enough to praise everybody, especially Dakota Johnson, a lesser-known actress at the time, who’d turned Anastasia Steele – one of my least favorite romance novel heroines (there are so many good ones!) – into a mildly interesting human. Jamie Dornan, who starred as Christian, looked too constipated to be sexy, but Johnson carried it on her own.
When the sequel, “Fifty Shades Darker,” was released, my bar was on the floor yet again. How could I enjoy another two hours with Christian Grey, a brooding, controlling, childish billionaire who buys his girlfriend’s company so he can track her every move? How much more of his S&M could I take?
It turned out that director James Foley — who’d taken over for Sam Taylor-Johnson — allowed for humor and camp. Dornan was more comfortable in his dominant jeans, and Kim Basinger joined the cast as an over-the-top soap opera nemesis for Anastasia. A drink was thrown, and I was entertained enough.
But the third film — also directed by Foley and filmed with the second — is just more of the same . . . with less joy and intrigue. There’s no Basinger to deliver “Dynasty”-style lines, or actress Bella Heathcote, who showed up in the second film as one of Christian’s former submissives.
“Freed” tries to be a sexy thriller, but at its best it’s a Pinterest board. The constant shots of vehicles, furniture, and travel make it look like a commercial for a credit card with a good points program. At its worst, the movie is a drag, especially during the sex scenes. They get repetitive; he just keeps blindfolding her and tying her to things. A friend who accompanied me to the screening looked far more aroused during a scene about home renovation, when an architect explains that the Greys’ new manor will have self-cleaning windows.
“I want those,” she whispered in my direction, finally looking seduced.
The Ana-Christian romance was never easy to digest onscreen, but in 2018, it doesn’t work at all. Christian seems like the kind of guy who’d donate to the #MeToo movement as he checks his wife’s e-mail and scolds her for not taking his last name. Ana often wins in the end, but Christian never learns his lesson.
I will credit the franchise for its discoveries. After the first installment, Johnson, who was charming on the short-lived Fox series “Ben and Kate,” moved on to Luca Guadagnino’s “A Bigger Splash” (2015) and Scott Cooper’s “Black Mass” (2015), and Dornan – who is somehow much sexier as a serial killer on the BBC thriller “The Fall” than he is as Christian – is now a leading man. His publicity tours for the “Fifty” films suggest he’s ready for a great comedy.
My hope is that some of the other actors from the trilogy get their due.
Eric Johnson, who plays Anastasia’s former sexual harassing boss, Jack Hyde, is a magnetic villain. He’s a pleasure to watch in “Freed,” even though it looks like he has pink eye the whole movie. (Apparently, allergy eyes are the mark of a killer.)
Even better is Ashleigh LaThrop, who should be in everything. She plays Ana’s secretary in the film, and her facial expressions alone remind the audience that there are interesting people in Seattle.
FIFTY SHADES FREED
Directed by James Foley. Written by Niall Leonard, based on the book by E.L. James. Starring Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan. At Boston Common, Fenway, suburbs, Jordan’s IMAX in Reading and Natick. 120 minutes. R (for nudity, language . . . and more nudity).
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