Monday, March 9, 2015

Film Review | Fifty Shades of Grey

Entertainment Voice

I Am Curious--Grey

How’s this for a red-hot color scheme? Start with a kinky romance plot as your base, daub in “9 1/2 Weeks”, and a streak of “Secretary,” add on a tony veneer of “Jane Eyre,” and you’ll likely churn out “Fifty Shades of Grey,” a bastardized S&M stew pot that’s equal parts icky, drippy, and sticky.

Birthed from the runaway 2012 erotic best-seller by British author E.L. James (actually 40-something mom Erika Mitchell)“Fifty Shades” was slyly delivered into theaters on Valentine’s Day. It should have been stamped Return to Sender, borne out by the U.S. box-office jilting since its opening week. “Girl meets boy, girl falls for boy, boy ties up girl,” isn’t exactly the old-fashioned formula for screen romance, but then you must bear in mind that we live in a luridly blue world in which Internet-delivered porn has metastasized into the mainstream.

Whereas James’ sensationally steamy novel—now trilogy—had readers bound up tightly in all-in-your-head erotic fantasy, this turgid screen version is hung up firstly by a casting palate that’s strikingly bland, if not totally vapid. In light of the controversial sex, nudity, and raunchy talk, it’s no surprise that name actors were shrinking violets when it came time to signing on. Perhaps they haven’t forgotten the case of one Elizabeth Berkeley, whose short-lived “Showgirls” notoriety quickly dropped a curtain on her film career.

From a self-published book hatched from the vampire-fiction “Twilight” saga, it’s no earthly surprise that James’ erotica follows the footsteps of a virginal (but hot) girl who’s romantically captivated by a mysterious, even sinister (but hot) outsider with a terribly big secret. This particular U.S. Northwest lady in waiting is Anastasia (Dakota Johnson), a graduate English student whose small world is instantly lit up with bodice-bursting fireworks upon meeting Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan), the inscrutable young tycoon behind Seattle’s Grey Enterprises.

If Ana is searching for love and romance a la any bookish Jane Austen heroine, the enigmatic Mr. Grey harbors desires that merge the Marquis de Sade with Howard Hughes. Christian has not only created a Telecom empire, he’s also set up a high-rise headquarters staffed with so many curvaceous females that even Mad Men would be green with envy.

Despite the supposed Seattle-area settings, Ana’s torridly up-and-down romantic adventures have almost nothing to do with the known world—except perhaps for the sort of folks who fancy “Game of Thrones” as realistically medieval. This is paint-by-numbers hack erotica, crudely drawn with crayons and mascara.

It’s telling then when the gentlemanly Christian escorts Ana to his pulpy-red S&M dungeon he calls it his “playroom.” Though coyishly reluctant and naive, Anna enters and quickly warms to her role as submissive girl-toy because, hey, the sex is awesome. With Mr. Grey in executive control of his armoires of whips, ropes and silk ties, Anna lets herself go. Naturally, this liberates her from the ties that bind her to her fuddy-duddy sexual morals. No longer the mousy grad student in plaids and ponytail, Ana is transformed into a walking G spot.

Ana’s orgasmic liberation is echoed in her high-flying trips aboard Mr. Grey’s fleet of helicopters and gliders, as well as in his chauffeur-driven luxury cars. There’s nothing like being seduced by a hunky, filthy-rich and single CEO to make a girl want to get down and dirty. Jose (Victor Rasuk), Ana’s earthbound classmate and suitor, pales in comparison to the splendidly expensive hues of Christian’s phallic hi-rise world.

James, director Samantha Taylor-Johnson and screenwriter Kelly Marcel want their fantasy both ways, serving up kink and ample horizontal nudity—almost all Johnson—on a plate while at the same granting their heroine a girlish willfulness that rebels against Christian cocksure dictates. The burning question is whether Ana will sign his ridiculously explicit, X-rated contract laying out, as it were, their binding relationship in black and white. As she dithers, she toys with him outside the playroom, leaving him on pins and needles. James’ pseudo-feminist ruse is designed strictly to lend a patina of independence to her heroine’s regression into a living, heavy-breathing sex doll.

Will these two live happily ever after, bound together by lust, transgression, and Italian ties? Shades of the interminable “Twilight” and “Hunger Games” series, captive audiences may have to slog through 49 more colorless shades of Grey before they’re let out of this dungeon.

Fifty Shades of Grey opens nationally Feb. 13

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