Some people like to pretend we love sex but it's not really true in America. What we Americans love is talking about sex, reading about it, arguing about it and watching it in cursory, highly diluted form on screens of various sizes. We love disapproving of the sex other people have -- the ways they go about it and the chaos it may bring into their lives.
That's why E.L. James'"Fifty Shades of Grey" trilogy was such a smash best seller. It was called "Mommy Porn" but what it really functions as (with great cunning) is a consumerist romantic cookie about a kinky billionaire and an inexperienced smartypants glazed with a thin layer of S&M.
My favorite feminist in my immediate family said, on the occasion of the first "Fifty Shades" movie: "Among the man-hating feminist killjoy brigade ... most of the stuff that makes us want to eat glass is in books two and three."
Well, we're in the soup now and it ain't Minestrone. The version of book two has arrived and it's close to a crashing bore. It can kill joy all by itself. No ground glass appetizer is necessary.
There is a lot of talk about "submissives" (or "subs") and the like. There are a couple tantalizing trips to billionaire Christian Grey's "Red Room" where he keeps a lot of expensive bondage and discipline paraphernalia for his favorite nocturnal games.
Very little of that happens. In the original, it mostly seemed that Ana was getting bound up so she could be tickled with feathers. There was some polite spanking going on but only a little rough stuff.
Even more than the first time around, this supposedly "darker" movie has a fair amount of love making and nudity but it's all so clean and luxurious and respectful that it could be shown in a church basement to naive engaged couples who want to know what marriage may require of them in the carnal department.
Yes, the Red Room keeps beckoning Ana throughout the movie. What this second installment makes clear is that our young lady has a bit of a taste for kink herself which she would like to explore gently and at leisure with Christian. He has, it seems, reformed his bullying and stalking so that he won't spring any nasty stuff on her. He'll always get her say-so first.
As we all found out the first time around, Christian isn't just filthy, screaming rich; he is, despite his wayward carnal tastes, a nice boy who knows the proper way to behave when his drunken date is vomiting into a gutter. He's also liable to give a partner with literary tastes a whole bunch of first editions of Thomas Hardy.
[RELATED: Read the review of "50 Shades of Grey"]
But that was last time. This time, we find out, as well, that he loves his adopted mother (Marcia Gay Harden) to pieces and proves it by naming a yacht after her. I mean, come on. What more could you want? Yes, he still tends to order Ana's dinner for her in restaurants but it's obvious his behavioral miscues can be straightened out. He's a romantic fantasy figure, in other words, who just needs a little paper training.
Nothing that a game, plucky smarty like Ana can't handle. And, as I said, we find out in this installment that she does have enough interest in Christian's "Red Room" to make a few ever-so-gingerly feints in the direction of the Bondage and Discipline mainstream (?).
So it's all about Ana's burgeoning publishing career and her romance with Chris, both of which happen simultaneously in rainy Seattle. It spends an unseemly amount of time pretending to be a Gothic where someone will suddenly show up to go all Glenn Close-And-Sharon Stone and indulge a desire to turn Ana into egg salad.
We have three nutcase candidates: Ana's boss (Eric Johnson); Chris' older former lover who introduced him to kink in the first place (Kim Basinger); and one of his former "subs" whose subsequent life took some dark turns and left her forlorn, vengeful and unhinged.
All that comes of these very wet firecrackers is a gunshot aimed at the ceiling, an unwanted sexual advance in the office (countered with an artful knee to the groin) and some rudeness at a birthday party.
What little news there is in this romance is pathetically minor. We discover that Chris has a taste for pushing Ana into public sex. He springs last minute sex toys on her when dressing for a masked ball at his parents' house and he insists on her removing undergarments at dinner and in elevators.
Courtship, you know? Some do it at Bills' games, some in elevators.
It all bored the bejabbers out of me. Even the sex and epidermal display, while admittedly diverting, are so cursory you know the actors couldn't wait to get them over with. Actual realistic sex might be interesting in a mainstream movie if a gifted director could figure out a clever way to film it without silliness and pandering but then we right-thinking Americans don't really want that. It might unnerve us.
I was kind of hoping, after a while, that Christian would turn this baby into a documentary and explain every piece of gleaming, well-polished and very expensive-looking paraphernalia in his "Red Room:" "This little thing is a brace I picked up in Macao. The big gamblers use it to ... "
When a movie is this boring, the least it could be is educational.
As always, the principals --Dakota Johnson and Jamie Dornan -- are pleasant to look at, clothed or not. James Foley does what he can as a director. The film's writer and major culprit is Niall Johnson, a fellow whose major credit previously seems to have been "Horatio Hornblower 3."
"How did HE get his job?" you might well ask.
He's E.L. James' husband. That's how.
“Fifty Shades Darker”
2 stars (out of four)
Starring: Dakota Johnson, Jamie Dornan, Kim Basinger and Marcia Gay Harden.
Directed by: James Foley. 118 minutes.
Rated: R for strong erotic content, some graphic nudity.