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Big screen adaptation has little charm



Every decade has its much-talked-about, risqué feature film. In the 1980s, God gave us Mickey Rourke and Kim Basinger in Nine 1/2 Weeks. Rourke’s reign as Hollywood’s leading naughty man continued with Wild Orchid. By the early aughts, James Spader brought us his comeback vehicle, erotic romance Secretary, with co-star Maggie Gyllenhaal.

Now, here’s Fifty Shades of Grey, the anticipated big-screen adaptation of E.L. James’ bestselling romance novel. It stars Jamie Dornan (TV’s The Fall) as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson (21 Jumpstreet, TV’s Ben and Kate) as Greys’ object of affection, Anastasia Steele.

The Fifty Shades trilogy has sold more than 100 million copies in e-book and print, making it one of the biggest- and fastest-selling series in history.

Last weekend’s theater opening took in an estimated $90.7 million for Universal Pictures, reported ticket sales monitor Rentrack.

However, a popular book doesn’t always a great film make, and this film had trouble from its start. We all know what we are here to see: sex and more sex and Hurt Locker-like, quasi-sadomasochism masquerading as mainstream erotica. So, dedicating an entire scene to Steele sliding a pencil with Grey’s name on it into her mouth was awkward. The upside is that the scene — though ridiculous — translates into near-parody, adding a whiff of levity to what might otherwise be a tedious rehash of James’ book. (Remember the pool sex scene between Elizabeth Berkley and Kyle MacLachlan in the 1995 film Striptease? Like that, but with fewer nightmares after.)

Dornan’s acting is over-the-top, as expected, and often contradicts Johnson’s likable portrayal of doe-eyed Steele.

This isn’t a new storyline, either: An attractive-yet-mysterious-and-broken man meets an innocent woman. She awakens something in him and vice versa. In the midst of all this, we see sexy, sometimes shocking scenes. Things get complicated. Hearts break and hopefully are mended. It’s a formula that works.

What made Fifty Shades of Grey fall short (or succeed, if you’re into camp) is its lack of charm. It is 2015; you have every available outlet to explore every possible quirk, kink, curiosity, fetish and fancy, meaning audiences can’t be shocked into liking this film.

Grey is charming yet repulsive in his adoration of Steele, but he keeps drawing her back. Ultimately, he wants her. She wants him.

And despite its flaws, if music soothes the savage beasts, then this soundtrack is where the true movie magic happens. Whether in the “red room” or gliding above the gorgeous landscape of Savannah, Georgia, the scenes enveloped by songs from artists like Annie Lennox, Frank Sinatra, Danny Elfman and Beyoncé were truly moving.

Other finer points were the beautifully shot landscapes, the tiny performance by Marcia Gay Harden (Mystic River) as Grey’s mother and the characters’ interactions with Grey’s driver, Taylor, expertly executed here by Max Martini (Pacific Rim).

However, the film’s most powerful scene was its last one, perhaps followed with theater crowd-watching as a close second.

Print headline: Grey matter, Fifty Shades is the best one could expect from a mainstream, erotic film starring two lesser-knowns and luxury-branded quasi-sadomasochism.

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