In case further proof is required that movies have changed for the worse, Valentine’s Day is no longer about flowers and heart-shaped candy boxes, but a celebration of sadomasochism and twisted, titillating sex. Exhibit A: A gullible, naïve and inexperienced college girl in Vancouver goes ape for a handsome young billionaire in Seattle seeking a virgin to make his sex slave. Only a filmmaker of outstanding subtlety or a kinky provocateur with the powers of limitless exploitation could make the most of this premise. Unfortunately, Sam Taylor-Johnson doesn’t remotely succeed in Fifty Shades of Grey, the doomed movie version of the trashy best seller by E.L. James that made dildos as coveted an item on every Cosmo girl’s back-to-school list as yoga pants. The movie dead ends just like the book, and for anyone who has ever seen a real porno film, it’s tame as tapioca. But for its target audience (giggling girls and horny, frustrated anti-feminists) it’s a great gimmick for selling exotic sex toys and lubricants.
FIFTY SHADES OF GREY ★★
Written by: Kelly Marcel
Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) is a serious business major whose man-crazy roommate sends her off to interview the mysterious Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) for the campus newspaper. The result is a cliché-riddled flop for the journalism archives, but a red letter day for the Marquis de Sade when the 27-year-old tycoon with his own office building named after him takes one look at the girl and spots his next victim. What pasty virgin would not be lured into a love affair with a GQ cover who pilots his own helicopter and plays Chopin’s “Prelude in E Minor” after a five-star dinner by candlelight? But there are problems. “I don’t do romance,” he warns. “My tastes are very … singular. You wouldn’t understand.”
Anastasia has no idea what he means and neither does anyone else. “Enlighten me,” she says. In his lavish penthouse, he beckons her to his decadent “playroom” filled with walls of assorted chains, whips and a collector’s gallery of other favorite “floggers.” Appalled, she flees. But naturally, she returns, even after he presents her with a detailed contract promising her unspeakable luxuries in exchange for total dominance if she becomes his coveted “submissive.” Intrigued, she says she’s O.K. with bondage, but anal torture is a no-no and she draws the line at vaginal clamps. We’re off and running.
Alas, after more than two hours, she still hasn’t signed the contract, but this is only Part 1 of a dreaded trilogy. Two more books and movies are on the way called Fifty Shades Darker and Fifty Shades Freed. I can only wonder if anything more stimulating will ever happen in the inevitable novels, audiobooks, Samsung tablet rebates and smarmy publicity campaigns that are forthcoming. The movie is lovely to look at and the sets and clothes are trendy and cool, but for anyone seeking out a little action to go with the corny dialogue by screenwriter Kelly Marcel, it is safe to say nothing ever happens here. Whoever photographed the sex scenes must have been thinking of puppy dogs and breakfast cereal.
Fortunately the two heavily promoted leads are talented and pleasant, though hardly enough to leave home for. As Anastasia, Dakota Johnson can act, and although Jamie Dornan, from Belfast, seems like an odd, unnecessary choice to play an all-American corporate executive, he looks good, in and out of his pants. At the crowded screening I attended, every time he unbuckled his belt, the girls in the audience exploded with collective screams, which I found somewhat baffling because instead of living up to the screenplay’s torrid description of Christian Grey as “ridiculously hot,” Mr. Dornan is like dozens of other nice young junior stockbrokers on Wall Street. When he describes himself, in a rare moment of confessional candor, as “50 shades of fucked up,” you want to yell, “Are you serious?”
Neither of the actors are ever out of handcuffs long enough to develop anything close to a real character, and despite the overheated, heavy-breathing publicity blitz surrounding the movie, there is no full-frontal nudity. Still, if word of mouth doesn’t kill Fifty Shades of Grey, the door is open at the end for more to come. Maybe in future installments there will even be something that resembles a plot. For now, the entire movie is about as sexy as a root canal.