When E.L. James' debut novel Fifty Shades of Grey hit bookstore shelves it became a runaway bestseller and, almost as quickly, a pop culture punchline. Its sordid mixture of Harlequin romance and kinky sexploits was a hit among desperate housewives and the like, a sort of Peyton Place or Valley of the Dolls for the 21st century.
But unlike those dog-eared paperback classics, Fifty Shades spelled out all the "dirty parts", leaving little to the imagination and providing ample fodder for late night talk show hosts to titter at all this "raciness" on sale at your local Wal-Mart. Like Peyton and Dolls, a quick film adaptation of Fifty Shades of Grey was rushed out to capitalize on all that notoriety. Alas, unlike its predecessors, Fifty Shades: The Movie isn't of the "so bad, it's good" variety; it's just plain bad.
The Grey of the title is Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan, formerly of Once Upon a Time), a billionaire businessman those "People's Hottest Bachelors" lists are made for. Into his assiduously ordered life stumbles (literally) the young Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson), a mousy college virgin who somehow catches the fancy of Mr. Grey. Before you can say "it's complicated", he's deflowered her and introduced her to his darker side via his "play room", a scarlet lair fully-equipped with all manner of bondage paraphernalia. Anastasia just wants a "normal boyfriend", but Christian doesn't "do romance"... yet he fully expects her to submit to his every salacious whim.
Filled with stilted dialogue, schizophrenic characterizations and a flabbergastingly overwhelming sense of its own misguided importance, Fifty Shades of Grey most disappointingly doesn't even qualify as camp, even with a heroine that blurts out "What's a butt plug?". It's a softcore Lifetime Move of the Week made naughty with frequent nudity and mentions of "genital clamps" and "vaginal fisting".
And beware: there are two more books in the Fifty Shades trilogy, so there's two (or most likely three) more of these on their way to a theater near you. "Mr. Grey will see you now" but by all means, don't see him.
MD Rating: D
Fifty Shades of Grey is now available on DVD and Blu-ray: