"Fifty Shades Freed" should mark the merciful end of the movie trilogy unleashed by E.L. James' novels, and there's plenty of artfully-lit airbrushed sex -- and unintended guffaws -- for those with a taste for midnight-movie-style chewy badness. Otherwise, the safe word should be "avoid."
Having finished the second chapter with a proposal, the third opens with a wedding, a whirlwind trip to exotic locales, and a reminder that marriage doesn't automatically mean the end of passion -- at least, for newlyweds with their own well-equipped, garishly decorated "playroom."
Pretty soon, however, the honeymoon's over, as the central couple tries to adjust to marital bliss. Anastasia (Dakota Johnson) wants to maintain her career in publishing, but must deal with a wealthy husband, Christian (Jamie Dornan), who's overprotective, jealous and controlling. And while it might sound like a high-class problem, there's the business of managing all those ever-present servants, who insist on calling her "Mrs. Grey," mirroring the formal way they address her spouse.
The adaptation, which reunites director James Foley and writer Niall Leonard, dutifully goes through the motions, a description that also applies to the key performances. What can't be overstated, alas, is just how boring and tedious it all is.
As with the first sequel, "Fifty Shades Darker," there's barely enough story to sustain a whole movie, which likely explains Foley's reliance on musical montages to fill the void.
That makes a subplot tacked on to put Anastasia and others in peril -- the seeds of which were planted in the last film -- feel all the more strained and absurd. Focusing on the challenges to the relationship raised by Christian's particular needs would seemingly be enough, without these flourishes that, more than anything, resemble a later-season episode of "Falcon Crest."
Because the book was such a sensation, the enthusiasm that greeted the first film made it something of an event. The second, notably, yielded diminishing returns -- taking in about two-thirds the worldwide box-office haul of its predecessor -- and one suspects after an initial flurry of interest in its timed-for-Valentine's-Day release, enthusiasm for the third will quickly peter out as well.
Universal has had some fun with its marketing campaign, using the tagline, "Don't miss the climax." It's a shame, though, that the posters exhibit considerably more ingenuity than the film itself.
The title, at least, does get one thing right: Everyone associated with the "Fifty Shades" franchise should feel somewhat liberated by moving on, now that Christian and Anastasia's story is, effectively, tied up.
"Fifty Shades Freed" opens Feb. 9 in the U.S. It's rated R.
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