Fifty Shades Freed (2018)

Mrs. Grey will see you now

Another Valentine’s Day, another Fifty Shades installment! Fifty Shades Freed, the ‘climactic’ third chapter in the erotic romance-thriller saga, closes the pages on Anastasia Steele (a disinterested Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (a get-me-out-of-this-franchise Jamie Dornan), who — after knowing one another for how long? — tie the knot … and that’s within the opening moments of the film, leaving the remainder of its laborious 105-minute runtime to trail the couple’s ‘thrilling’ day-to-day shenanigans — which largely consist of going to work (yawn), eating dinner (yawn), down-and-dirty bonking (every five or so minutes), and luxury holidaying (just to make viewers envious of the extravagant life they all wish they had).

One might wonder why such a limp and flaccid trilogy grossed some $950 million globally, given that E. L. James’ Fifty Shades novels aren’t exactly revered literary works, the books featuring cringeworthy lines such as, ‘Because I’m fifty shades of fu*ked-up.’ I guess this proves that the bigwigs over at Universal know a thing or two about counterprogramming, these tacky S&M yarns marketed at disenchanted middle-aged women whom need a pick-me-up round February 14th, when multiplexes are usually overflowing with arty award-contenders.

Some Like It Rough

Fifty Shades Freed — what’s being freed here, us poor film critics, knowing that this may be the last of these smutty pictures we’ll ever have to sit (or sleep) through — begins with an ‘I Do,’ viewers buttered up with a highlight reel of the duo’s glossy big day as the titles appear on screen. From there it’s off to the honeymoon, where our newlyweds jet-set around the world, visiting places such as the French Riviera and Eiffel Tower in Paris, each of these hotspots photographed exquisitely by DOP John Schwartzman, Jurassic World (2015). But pretty pictures aren’t enough to salvage a dull, ill-conceived screenplay, which can’t seem to mask its ugly fan-fiction roots.

Anyhow, it’s on this getaway that Mr. and Mrs. Grey have their first husband-and-wife tiff, right after the headstrong Ana decides to go topless while tanning at the beach — mind you, Johnson spends more of the movie in the buff than she does covered up, Fifty Shades Freed containing the most nudity I’ve seen in a mainstream film in yonks! Alas, the further the ‘story’ zips along, the sillier things get, the pair (at one point) even having clumsy, laugh-out-loud conversations about issues regular engaged couples tend to discuss before getting hitched — ya know, whether Anastasia will change her name from Steele to Grey or, more absurdly, whether they both want kids. Yikes! With our two sex-pots f*cking like horny college students, Ana quickly discovers that she has a bun roasting in the oven, all that kinky time under the covers leading to the film’s major complication, the narrative posing the question of whether the abusive man-child Christian could ever change his bad-boy ways and become a wholesome daddy (who cares).

Christian certainly knows how to make an entrance!

Penned by Niall Leonard (E.L. James’ real-life hubby) and directed by James Foley — the same guys who brought us the equally awful Fifty Shades Darker (2017) — Freed suffers due to its lack of focus and logic, the film suffocated by a multitude of uninspired, face-palm-inducing story threads, one of which (a tacked-on thriller plotline) features a half-assed villain whose motives and ‘mysterious’ identity are revealed almost right away; talk about showing one’s hand too early! The series baddie, the ridiculously named Mr. Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), barley poses a threat, considering that Ana is being chaperoned by highly trained security, our antagonist (whose skills include blackmailing and harassing) an embittered ex-publishing editor who holds a bit of a grudge against Christian — hardly the stuff to fill up a trilogy.

Then we have the dreadful dialogue, ‘It’s boobs in boobland’ being just one of the many terrible lines spoken in the film. And, just like its predecessor, a good 70% of this X-rated offering is padding, these ‘filler’ scraps drowning out the small traces of narrative we do get; there’s a surprise weekend away to the Grey lodge in Aspen, Colorado, where billionaire Christian flies Ana and their privileged pals — his sis Mia (Rita Ora), bro Elliot (Luke Grimes), and buds Kate Kavanagh (Eloise Mumford) and José Rodriguez (Victor Rasuk) — to a lavish woodside cabin via private jet, just so audiences can sit through a strangely seductive yet stomach-churning rendition of Paul McCartney’s ‘Maybe I’m Amazed’ performed by a dreamy Dornan, who plays along on an extravagant grand piano — did we really need this? Sure, some may be seduced by the nice panoramic mountain views, but again, these superfluous odds-and-ends feel as though they should’ve been left on the cutting room floor.

Honeymoon Vibes

There’s also some ‘sexy stuff’ involving Ben and Jerry’s (I’ll never look at ice-cream the same way again), an out-of-place car chase, and a shoddy dead-end c-plot involving Elliot Grey and an architect named Gia (Arielle Kebbel), who’s renovating the Grey’s flashy new manor. And, adding insult to injury, the entire thing is capped off with a tacky fairytale ending that feels as though it were plucked straight out of a fan-girl’s blog page. Honestly, this movie stinks; it’s a mind-numbing slog and a disjointed mess!

With scenes of spanking and smooching punctuating almost every story beat, the sequences set in Grey’s crimson-leather-lined play dungeon are by far the most watchable, these soft-core porn setups all edited to steamy pop hits. The meatiest of these moments sees sexual sadist Mr. Grey punish his defiant wife with a viabrator, this after she disobeys his direct commands, moviemakers subtly commenting on the fine line that exists between teasing and torture — unfortunately, that’s about as deep as the themes of sadomasochism and BDSM are explored. The flick’s soundtrack is also worthy of praise, and includes titillating tracks such as ‘For You,’ performed by Rita Ora and Liam Payne, and the creamy ‘Sacrifice’ by Black Atlass ft. Jessie Reyez; Danny Elfman’s grandiloquent score is pretty spiffy, too, the composer returning to the franchise for a third (and final?) time.

… waiting for their Fifty Shades of Pay!

Headline stars Dakota Johnson, How to Be Single (2016), and Jamie Dornan, Anthropoid (2016), both look about as bored as a shlong at an abstinence party, while newcomers Brant Daugherty, from television’s Pretty Little Liars (2010-16), as hunky bodyguard Sawyer, and bombshell Arielle Kebbel, The Grudge 2 (2006), who portrays sultry property designer Gia Matteo, serve as mere eye-candy, neither character having any sort of purpose, arc or depth. And what of Kim Basinger’s Elena, our boy-toy’s business partner slash former lover, who briefly appeared in Freed’s theatrical trailer? Well, I guess we gotta wait for the deleted scenes on the Blu-ray/ DVD to find out! (No thanks.)

Edged comfortably between Darker and Grey, Fifty Shades Freed isn’t the worst entry in this bland and tasteless saga — but that’s not saying much — filmmakers putting Ana, Grey and his bondage blindfolds and handcuffs to bed with a fizzle rather than a bang; good riddance. Oh well, at least members of the media were treated to cocktails, yummy cupcakes and a ripper chocolate fondue at the pre-screening party; shame it was only a ‘quickie,’ this foreplay significantly more rousing than the main event.

2 / 5 – Average

Reviewed by S-Littner

Fifty Shades Freed is released through Universal Pictures Australia