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‘Fifty Shades Darker’ takes a turn for the worst

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While Christian wrestles with his inner demons, Anastasia must confront the anger and envy of the women who came before her.

There are a lot of negative things to be said about Fifty Shades Darker. But it does impress in one sense: The erotica lite sequel somehow manages to be worse than the stupefyingly bad Fifty Shades of Grey.

Directed by James Foley (Glengarry Glen Ross), the abominable Darker (* out of four; rated R; in theaters nationwide Thursday night) takes its pair of complicated Seattle lovebirds — billionaire bondage aficionado Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan) and his doe-eyed paramour Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson) — on a second cinematic chapter filled with predictable twists, naked bedroom antics that could double as an infomercial for Sex Toys R Us, and unintentionally hilarious dialogue.

The twosome decoupled at the end of the first Fifty Shades — and, honestly, should have stayed that way, since it was two hours of Ana getting all manner of red flags that Christian is bad boyfriend material. Yet it doesn’t take too long into Darker when Christian wants to “renegotiate the terms” of their relationship contract from the previous film. In short, the guy wants to prove to Ana that he loves her more than his kinky proclivities.

Christian’s got some serious issues from his childhood, which he begins to reveal to Ana. Meanwhile, she tells him she wants to take it slow and five minutes later, they’re entangled in one of the movie’s many lovemaking sessions. Ana bristles every time Christian tries to exert power over her, yet instead of running for the hills, she continually gives over to that control, be it in Christian’s infamous Red Room or outside in the real world.

In the screenplay by Niall Leonard (Fifty Shades author E.L. James’ husband), there’s no plot of any actual importance — the narrative is comprised solely of silly soap-operatic shenanigans that exist merely to break up soft-core sequences of Christian and Ana getting busy.

To its credit, Darker introduces a couple of interesting wrinkles in a troubled stalker (Bella Heathcote) who used to be one of Christian’s submissives and Ana’s skeezy new boss (Eric Johnson), yet both of their story threads are thrown aside in frustratingly quick fashion without giving their antagonistic presences time to blossom. At least Kim Basinger gets to chew some scenery as Christian’s own Mrs. Robinson, who wants to keep him on the sexy dark side.

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Jamie Dornan and Dakota Johnson talk ’50 Shades Darker’ with USA TODAY’s Andrea Mandell.
USA TODAY NETWORK

Johnson still hasn’t found the right role to showcase her skills because this surely isn’t it. Dornan is quite talented — as anybody who’s watched the British TV show The Fall can attest — but he inexplicably loses his mojo in these movies. Together? Well, any pair of fish lying next to each other at Seattle’ famed Pike Place Market have more chemistry.

After one round of carnal pleasure, Christian asks Ana why she waited until 21 to lose her virginity to him. Her answer is that she was looking for someone “exceptional” who could measure up to the kind of men Jane Austen and Charlotte Bronte wrote about.

She can do better, and really, so can we.

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