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Richard Crouse: Fifty Shades Freed features whips, chains and unintended laughs

The third instalment of the Fifty Shades of Grey film franchise could very well make you want to gag, writes movie critic Richard Crouse.

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades Freed.

Doane Gregory / Universal Pictures

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan in Fifty Shades Freed.

Depending on your point of view, Fifty Shades of Grey either made you want to gag or want to wear a gag. A softcore look at hardcore BDSM (bondage, discipline, sadism and masochism), it spanked the competition in its opening weekend in 2015.

A second film, Fifty Shades Darker, came along two years later. With Fifty Shades Freed entering theatres this weekend, the question is will audiences still care about Christian Grey’s proclivities and Anastasia Steele’s misgivings or will it be time to use our collective safe word?

Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan return as stars of the literary adaptations of E. L. James’ wildly popular erotic novels. If you haven’t seen the first two, here’s what you need to know before handing over your cash for part three.

There are sex scenes, there is nudity and, yes, Virginia, there are whips and chains but don’t expect the smutty stuff from the books. These big-budget films have whipped the material into mainstream theatre shape, shaving the rough edges off the novel’s explicit kinky sex scenes.

The randy pair spend more time talking about their sexual liaisons than actually getting horizontal … or suspended … or anything else. They blabber and negotiate, yammering on about submission, domination and safe words till even the Marquis de Sade would nod off from boredom. The first two are not exactly comedies, but the dialogue is so bad you could call them domination comedies or dom-coms.

Then there is Grey’s version of sweet talk — “If you were mine you wouldn’t be able to sit down for a week.” — and predatory behaviour that, if not for his billions, would land him in jail for stalking or worse. The psychological introspection on display here makes Dr. Phil seem like Friedrich Nietzsche.

Of the two leads, Dakota Johnson seems ripped from the pages of the book. Her gamine innocence and girlish giggle convey the emotional rawness necessary for the character to work. She is naked, emotionally and physically — unlike her co-star who, for all we know, is as anatomically correct as a Ken doll — with a propensity for drunk dialling and a permanently dewy look about her that betrays the confusion and attraction Ana feels toward Grey.

Dornan has the thankless role. His grim-faced Christian Grey is an unemotional cipher, a bubbling cauldron of unexplored trauma and Dornan plays him straight faced which must have been tough while delivering unintentionally hilarious lines like “Roll your eyes at me again and I will take you across my knee.” His delivery is just as sexy as that time your cranky old grandfather said it to you when you were 10. Dornan’s burning passion is conveyed by his intense gaze, which often looks clinical, as if he’s examining her naked body for irregular moles.

Together the pair share so little chemistry they wouldn’t smoulder if you lit their underwear on fire. To be fair, they are cut adrift in a sea of kinky sex, mommy porn, dime store psychology and bad dialogue, most of which only serves to move the films along from one spanking montage to the next. Stymied by plotting that makes most Harlequins look like Dostoyevsky, the actors frequently shed their clothes, most likely in an attempt to distract from the truly awful things that happen when they are clothed.

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