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'Fifty Shades of Grey': The movie takes itself far too seriously

Attempts to give 'Fifty' character Christian Grey some soulfulness fall flat, but actress Dakota Johnson gives a sweet performance and deserves a more complex role in the future.

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'Fifty Shades of Grey' stars Dakota Johnson (l.) and Jamie Dornan (r.).

Chuck Zlotnik/Universal Pictures and Focus Features/AP

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I suspect that the many millions of readers of “Fifty Shades of Grey” will find the movie adaptation not equal to the film they imagined while pantingly devouring the tome. 

Essentially a Harlequin Romance with pulleys, E.L. James’s novel is not exactly “Lady Chatterley’s Lover,” but the movie, directed by Sam Taylor-Johnson and written by Kelly Marcel (whose previous screen credit was “Saving Mr. Banks”!) takes itself so seriously that it almost cries out to be lampooned. I’m sure the “Saturday Night Live” crew is already on the case.

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Anastasia Steele (Dakota Johnson, the daughter of Melanie Griffith and Don Johnson) is a mousy, virginal college English major who ends up ensnared by brash Seattle billionaire Christian Grey (Jamie Dornan). She becomes the submissive to his dominant in his playroom aerie equipped with enough cable and rope ties to stock a hardware store. (Just in case we missed the connection, we see him buying cables and rope ties at the hardware store where she works before things get heavy.)

Anastasia doesn’t really know what to make of this guy and neither do we. Although he’s supposed to be strictly business – he won’t even sleep in the same bed with her during her stayovers – he’s really not such a bad sort.

He was an abused orphan, you see, and he had a submissive relationship with an older woman when he was younger, etc., etc. This attempt to give Christian some soulfulness falls flat since Dornan has all the charisma of a hologram. 

Johnson is rather sweet, though, and if she played a role that required her to look more than alternately smitten and poleaxed, she could score big. But now that “Fifty Shades” is poised to be a franchise, will she have that chance? Grade: C- (Rated R for strong sexual content including dialogue, some unusual behavior and graphic nudity, and for language.)