E.L. James is the classic case of the accidental success. The author of the best selling trilogy Fifty Shades of Grey, Fifty Shades Darker, and Fifty Shades Freed freely admits that she is constantly shocked that the concept of fan fiction took off as it did. Her trilogy was essentially a sequel to the Twilight series.


Apparently Random House's Vintage Books division saw the popularity of the self-published version of the books, made an offer to acquire the titles with movie rights and the rest, as they history.


But by no means have the books ever been critically acclaimed other than for their audacious erotic values and the fact that over 100 million copies have been sold. She has earned an estimated $95 million so far, which is presumably more than what she was making as the wife of a so-so screen writer.

In film, the first installment, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson earned a nifty $571 million globally ($166 million domestically) against a production budget of $40 million. As we all know, that means the series goes on.


James Foley (best known for "Glengarry Glen Ross") takes the helm for the latest segment. Returning is Dakota Johnson as Anastasia the wannabe submissive. Jamie Dornan returns as Christian Grey the billionaire sadist who romantically pursues Anastasia to become his sexual plaything.


In the first segment, they hook up and a relationship develops with Christian slowly revealing his kinkier side and Anastasia giving in until she can't take it any more and runs away like a scared puppy. There was a little speculation as to what drives Grey, but the movie was mostly scene after scene of soft-porn.

Anastasia and Christian reunite this time after running into each other and going out for a so-called innocent date. But quicker than you can say "Spank that ass and make me write big checks", they are back in the saddle again. It was amazing how quickly Anastasia gave in, though she declared that she was not going to be his submissive.


The difference this time is that she has a job as an assistant fiction editor at a small book publisher. Her boss is Jack Hyde (Eric Johnson) who has plans to have his way with her. Too late, as Grey checks him at the office and walks off with Anastasia; being a billionaire has its privileges. There is mention that Grey has bought the publisher, but that is never very clear as the film progresses.


What is clear is the feeble attempt to develop Grey's character by introducing a couple of past mistresses. One is an older MILF who happens to be a friend of his mother; Kim Basinger plays the seductive Elena Lincoln who has plans on getting Grey back into her bed with or without the blessing of her friend Grace (Marcia Gay Harden). The other girl is Leila (Bella Heathcote) who is a suicidal kook who would do anything to get back into Grey's life. Neither character really sheds much light on Grey's character other than they needed to be dominated.


There is a flashback attempt to shed light on Grey's cigarette burns that he received as a child, but nothing ever comes from it. In other words, the attempt to reveal the real Christian Grey falls flatter than a pancake.


Anastasia on the other hand comes off as still wanting to be Grey's girlfriend but completely confused as to whether she needs to be dominated or be equals. She allows him to apply a few of his toys in the six or seven sex scenes but nothing substantial is revealed other than her fairly decent butt and boobs.


Only Dakota's performance stands out and that may be due to her pedigree and her aforementioned boobs - which she displays often. All the other performances are regular soap opera quality.


"Fifty Shades Darker" fails in its attempt to add depth to the characters and resorts back to sex scenes whenever they run out of script. That's probably what the fans want, but at this point you would get more from a porn website than the vanilla kinkiness offered by director James Foley.   -- GEOFF BURTON