Christian Grey summons up his most menacing voice and makes his threat.
“Roll your eyes at me again, and I will take you across my knee.”
Audiences across America for “Fifty Shades of Grey” should quake at this. If eye-rolling is all it takes, we’re all in for a spanking.
The unsexiest sex movie since “Eyes Wide Shut” features an utterly colorless leading man — Jamie Dorman (TV’s “The Fall”) paired with a nubile heat-deprived leading lady (Dakota Johnson) who, apparently, is no lady.
Clinical as a classroom lecture, it’s a limp sadomasochism primer, which explains both the runaway success of the E.L. James novel and the startling pre-opening sales stats from America’s Promise Keepers belt. Industry sources finger Arkansas as the second most popular state for pre-release ticket sales. Dominance and submission, demeaning as both can seem, sells.
Johnson, famous for being Don Johnson and Melanie Griffith’s daughter, is the pretentiously-named Anastasia Steele, a student who interviews billionaire 27 year-old alumnus Christian Grey (metallic names all around) for the school newspaper.
She gulps, she stumbles, she bites her lip. A lot. His intense eye-contact and pseudo-innuendo come-ons aren’t lost on her.
But when he drops in on the hardware store where she has a part time job, the gloves come off. He’s into ropes, cable ties and duct tape. He drives only Audis. Of course he’s into bondage.
“I don’t make love,” he declares. “I don’t sleep with anyone. I don’t DO romance.”
Just what every (college) girl wants to hear, right?
Even though the leads generate little heat — she never comes off as anything but juvenile, he’s never more than shirtless eye candy — Grey lures her into his lair, his “play room” of restraints, whips and the like. And he throws his contract and non-disclosure agreement at her. Will she, could she be his…valentine? No, actually he wants her as “my submissive.”
There’s a lot of stripping, a little gamesmanship, and a lot of clueless pals and relatives (Jennifer Ehle plays her mom, Marcia Gay Harden his regal, rich one).
Can she change him and get him past whatever is driving this need to punish and dominate? Or will the leather lace-up shoe end up on the other foot, with the dominated becoming the dominatrix?
The answer “Who cares?” has been hanging over this kinked-up potboiler ever since the unromantic romance novel was optioned, reinforced by every new bit of disappointing casting bailouts, famous directors reluctant to make it or inept studio set up to distribute it. Sam Taylor-Johnson was the only filmmaker Universal could talk into directing this.
But nothing, in the end, was more disappointing than the fact that this light porn piffle was a best seller, spawning sequels, which this movie’s financial success ensures we’ll be forced to endure as well. Haven’t we been punished enough?
MPAA Rating: R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language
Cast: Jamie Dornan, Dakota Johnson, Jennifer Ehle, Marcia Gay Harden, Luke Grimes
Credits: Directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson, script by Kelly Marcel, based on the E.L. James novel. A release.
Running time: 2:05