‘Fifty Shades Freed’ won’t pleasure anyone with flaccid storytelling

Charles Liu

Sex is a commodity in “Fifty Shades Freed.”

Gone are the trepidation of first kisses and the smoldering glances hinting at burgeoning romance. Those meaningful elements somehow made “Fifty Shades of Grey” a tolerable experience. In spite of its extreme faults and stiff writing, the movie had moments that felt like they mattered.

“Fifty Shades Freed” throws sex on the screen as much as it can, severely undermining the dramatic value of every single romantic scene it has. The film never stabs at “mattering,” settling for ADHD storytelling and dim-witted conflicts. It is merely the obligatory curtain call for a series that was more Ambien than Viagra.

“Freed” opens at the belated wedding of Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) and Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), but their joy is quickly slapped aside in the following weeks when Christian’s possessive tendencies resurface. He’s a creep to say the least. Ana vacillates between accepting and defying Christian’s dominance, though she thankfully becomes his equal both in and out of bed as the picture moves forward.

Ana’s desire for a baby creates another point of contention between the couple. It’s weird they’re having a conversation about children after they get married, but hey, the divorce rate is high enough in America that it’s not totally out of the question.

And then there’s the issue of Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson), a toothless villain who intends to rain vengeance on Ana after she exposes him for sexual harassment. He bounces in and out of the story at his leisure, and he ends up being all talk and no bite.

Through it all, it’s quite amazing that Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan manage to deliver clunky lines with some semblance of credibility. They’ve always been treated as playthings — visual spectacles rather than actors. Like everything else in “Freed,” they’re here to serve the sex, not the story.

As with previous “Fifty Shades” installments, the sex is quite vanilla — and, fittingly, the film does involve an erotic scene with vanilla ice cream. This time, though, it’s rather lifeless, with Johnson and Dornan going through the motions with less heat than before. Meanwhile, the BDSM that was once a selling point for the series falls wayside, nearly forgotten amid the haphazard shuffle of events that make up the plot. With that out of the way, the film lacks a crucial element: having a point.

“Freed” suffers heavily from the “this happened and then this happened” syndrome. The picture throws out twists and turns like dollar bills from a guy at a strip club, but they are often isolated plot points that
lead nowhere.

Conflicts almost always arise from a lack of communication, and they are generally resolved within minutes, then rehashed with minor variations half-an-hour later. The narrative’s episodic nature results in awkward pacing and an annoying lack of coherence. Without substance or dramatic thrust, most of “Freed” is extended foreplay that ultimately blue balls the audience.

To kill time when the characters aren’t having stilted conversations or sexing it up, “Freed” resorts to montages of Ana and Christian doing rich people things, like yachting or driving an Audi R8.

It’s boring and uninvolving, and it’s disingenuous every time Ana is surprised Christian reveals he owns yet another vacation home or plane. You’ve known him long enough, girl — you should know better.

In the end, it’s worth noting that “Fifty Shades” has never taken itself too seriously, and the closing chapter is best seen with others willing to revel in its ridiculousness. But “Freed” is a less enthusiastic, less humorous effort all around, and even the haters will find less to laugh about than they hoped.

Running Time: 105 minutes

  • MPAA Rating: R
  • Score: 0.5/5 stars